Deputy minister slams own dept for making drug trafficker an ambassador

2016-10-20 13:01
Parliament. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

Parliament. (Duncan Alfreds, News24)

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Cape Town - The deputy minister of international relations has asked Parliament to take firm action against both his department and the State Security Agency (SSA) for allowing a former convicted drug trafficker to become an ambassador.

The department presented before the portfolio committee on international relations and co-operation on Wednesday to account for its 2015/16 annual report.

On the agenda was also a discussion on the hiring of High Commissioner to Singapore Hazel Francis Ngubeni.

The Sunday Times reported earlier in October that Ngubeni had been convicted in New York of smuggling a bag of cocaine in 1999 while working as a cabin attendant for SAA.

She was sentenced to two years in a US prison and released in 2001, but did not disclose her conviction when applying for her diplomatic post in 2013. She went by the name Francis McDonald in the 1990s.

'It's an absolute disgrace'

Deputy Minister Luwellyn Landers was critical of the appointment when asked by the committee, and said her hiring was a disgrace.

"How did this person become an ambassador for the Republic of South Africa?" he said.

"It's an outrage, a total outrage."

"This portfolio committee has raised issues in the past about ambassadors, but this is probably the worst case we've had to deal with.

"It's an absolute disgrace, and I say this in my capacity as deputy minister."

'This is not about politics'

The SSA withdrew Ngubeni's security clearance on October 7, but with only two months left of her three-year term, it was "a laugh" and of little consequence, Landers said.

He said both the department and the SSA had a case to answer for hiring Ngubeni and he asked the committee to take firm action when holding those responsible for her hiring to account.

"This is not about politics, this is about South Africa and its relations with people," he said.

"Now when we send a new ambassador somewhere, what are they going to say about us?"

He also said a diplomat has access to a "diplomatic pouch", which can only be opened by a High Commissioner.

9kg of heroin

It was unacceptable that someone convicted of drug smuggling could be the only one with access to it in that country, he said.

MPs thanked Landers for his honesty, and his desire to get to the bottom of it.

The Sunday Times also reported that Ngubeni was arrested on September 20 1995, at OR Tambo International Airport and charged with smuggling 9kg of heroin into South Africa from Thailand, but was acquitted in 1997.

She is the daughter of late MK operative Michael Mpandeni Ngubeni and had been nominated by "senior political leadership" in 2013.

The SSA spokesperson told News24 on Thursday that the matter was being investigated, but couldn't comment further on the developments.

Read more on:    luwellyn landers  |  parliament 2016  |  crime

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