Mass arrest of KZN’s ‘dirty cops’

2012-06-21 00:00

A DEEP sense of betrayal. That was the feeling among some of the 20 KwaZulu-Natal policemen who were arrested yesterday in what is arguably the biggest crackdown ever on alleged “dirty cops” in the country.

And as the policemen spent the night in a prison cell, one of them, Rubendren “Shane” Naidoo, had to deal with the death of his younger brother, Leon, soon after his arrest.

Leon suffered a heart attack after breaking the news of Shane’s arrest to his elderly mother. He died in hospital, a family friend said last night.

Several of the arrested police officers of the disbanded Durban Organised Crime Unit who spoke to The Witness yesterday said they felt let down and betrayed.

One seasoned officer said he felt cheated for the many times he put his life in danger to apprehend criminals.

Others were upset they had been arrested in front of their children.

“To them we are heroes but now we look like criminals,” said one emotional officer.

Another said he was taking his young child to school when he was confronted by the heavily armed task team.

“My child was terrified and crying and couldn’t understand why I was being arrested.

“He knows I’m a policeman and I arrest the bad guys. So he wanted to know why I was being arrested.”

It was a stunning climax to a joint investigation by the Hawks and the Independent Police Investigations Directorate (IPID) after the Sunday Times reported in December last year that an alleged “hit squad” was operating in KZN.

The unit was disbanded earlier this year.

Yesterday members of what has now become the most notorious police unit in a democratic South Africa spent the night behind bars after they were rounded up in a massive 24-hour joint operation involving a team of more than 60 detectives from outside the provinces.

Linked to allegations that they were operating as a “death squad” in the province, the 20 policemen — some high ranking officers — face serious charges.

These include several counts of murder, defeating the ends of justice, attempted murder, assault, theft and being in unlawful possession of arms and ammunition.

All these relate to allegations that the policemen executed suspects involved in serious cases, including armed robberies and murders in the province.

More arrests are expected as investigations continue.

In an operation that began during the early hours of yesterday morning and ended with an application in the high court in Durban for their release yesterday evening, the policemen were apprehended one by one from their homes by heavily armed members of the task force, the national Hawks led by General Jan Mabula and the IPID.

They had earlier offered to surrender to the police.

Charge sheets obtained by The Witness indicate that Naidoo faces 11 counts of murder, allegedly committed while apprehending suspects.

He also faces nine counts of theft and a charge of attempted murder, among other accusations.

Captain Neville Eva’s count include five counts of murder.

All the deceased in these cases were found with weapons lying next to their bodies. Naidoo was the investigating officer in the recent murder trial of Nicolette and Hardus Lotter and Matthew Naidoo , while Eva was the officer who investigated Facebook rapist Thomas Bester.

Yesterday afternoon the arrested officers were handcuffed and individually brought to the SA Police Service Airwing base at the old Durban International Airport, where they were fingerprinted and processed into the criminal record system.

Three of their colleagues who were on a course in Gauteng were arrested and flown to Durban.

Hawks provincial head Major-General Johan Booysen was not among those arrested. Earlier in the year, Booysen faced suspension after the allegations that the unit operated as a death squad surfaced.

He has won several Labour Court applications to stay the suspension

Booysen came under the spotlight after it was claimed that he was the ultimate unit commander as the provincial head of the Hawks. Colonel Rajen Aiyer, now a demoted policeman, was the direct commander of the unit at the time.

In 1995 Booysen was appointed provincial commander for all serious and violent crime units. Since then he has not been operationally involved in investigations as his mandate is management at provincial level. General Fanie Masemola was the ultimate commander of all detectives in KZN at the time.

Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela said Booysen was not part of the investigation mandate, but would not confirm if he would be investigated.

Booysen, who is on holiday, refused to comment.

The Hawks and the IPID investigation into the local unit will continue to focus on the deaths of suspects in several other matters handled by the unit, including taxi violence and ATM bombings.

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