Top cop breathes again

2012-02-14 00:00

KWAZULU-NATAL’S top cop Mmamonnye Ngobeni is no longer a corruption suspect, more than four months after the Hawks publicly branded her as one.

This after the Hawks, through its spokesperson McIntosh Polela, confirmed yesterday that they had dropped their investigation into the commissioner due to lack of evidence.

In September last year the Hawks questioned Ngobeni in her office and told her she was a suspect in their corruption probe into allegations that businessman and fraud suspect Thoshan Panday paid for her husband’s birthday party last year.

Polela said yesterday the case could not proceed because there was no case against Ngobeni.

“The investigation centred on Panday ,who is facing corruption charges, and that he had paid for her husband’s party. The investigation found there was no involvement on her part and hence no grounds to continue with the investigation.”

Polela said yesterday the corruption charges against Panday would still be pursued.

Allegations about the party reportedly emerged last year when police began to investigate the R60-million accommodation tender scam, in which Panday and two police officers in supply chain management were named as suspects.

An alleged attempt by one of the suspects, Colonel Navin Madhoe, to bribe Hawks provincial head Johan Booysen thrust the case back in the spotlight late last year, with media and politicians questioning why nothing had been done to take the allegations against Ngobeni further.

Ngobeni was then questioned in late September, although sources told The Mercury newspaper at the time that her husband was not an alleged suspect as it was his wife who had arranged the party.

An upbeat Panday said yesterday he felt vindicated by the Hawks’ decision to withdraw its investigation against Ngobeni..

“I have always maintained that there was never any corruption either on my side or that of the commissioner and I am happy about this decision.”

Panday repeated that he believed there were “other factors at play that have been pushing this investigation”.

“We have always known there is no evidence on this matter because there was no evidence to be found. This was just a witch-hunt.”

On the fact that the Hawks were still pursuing charges against him, he said: “They’ve been investigating me for two years and they haven’t found anything. What are they going to find now?”

Repeated attempts to contact Ngobeni and her husband, Brigadier Lucas Ngobeni, were unsuccessful yesterday.

However, Ngobeni told our sister publication the Daily Sun, that she felt vindicated as she had always maintained her innocence.

She said the allegations had taken their toll on her and her family, but was relieved that it was over and she could now focus on her job of fighting crime.

Her spokesperson Colonel Jay Naicker said yesterday the matter had not affected the commissioner’s ability to do her job.

“This did not affect her credibility as there was a transparent investigation which found no wrongdoing on her part.”

The decision however has left some political parties and security analysts questioning whether it would

not have been more appropriate for the National Prosecuting Authority or the courts to make the decision. Dr Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies said the way the investigation had been withdrawn would raise suspicion and damage the commissioner’s credibility.

“They should have put a docket in front of the prosecutor and that person would have been the right person to decide whether there was a case to answer to.”

Nkosinathi Theledi, the secretary-general of Popcru said. “If the charges had been dropped because there was no evidence of the crime, we have no qualms about that, but if the evidence pointed in a different direction and the charges were withdrawn, there is a problem.”

SAPU secretary-general Oscar Skommere said it was a relief the investigation had been dropped even though much damage had been done to Ngobeni’s name. “Fortunately she has the resources to clear her name if she wants to.”

In his reaction, Sizwe Mchunu, the provincial leader of the DA said: “It is difficult to comprehend how a top-level probe, involving some of the country’s top investigators, can yield no significant evidence.”

“The so-called ‘accommodation scam’ investigation has been hampered by irregularities from the start — not least of which is a claim by the Hawks that the commissioner herself attempted to the stall the process on three separate occasions.”

Blessed Gwala of the IFP said. “The matter should have been withdrawn in court, the Hawks are not the court, and we maintain that an independent structure should have been appointed to investigate.”

Sihle Zikalala of the ANC said the ruling party would only comment once it received a report on the matter. Community Safety MEC Willies Mchunu said he respected the Hawks’ decision.

“If the investigators decide not to continue with their investigation, there must be reason for that and as such I will have to wait for those reasons before I can officially comment on the matter.”

This was echoed by Police Ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi.

Last Wednesday, Ngobeni was among several provincial police commissioners who appeared before the National Assembly’s safety and security committee, but was spared any embarrassing questions by MPs about the corruption investigation against her.

Committee chairperson Sindy Chikunga told The Witness it had “not felt appropriate” to pose questions regarding the matter, while the commissioner maintained afterwards that there was no cloud hanging over her head.

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