SAPS Wars Part 3: Bheki Cele, Robert McBride and the mysterious Mr Marimuthu

2019-04-08 15:00
Former IPID head Robert McBride (File)

Former IPID head Robert McBride (File)

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What's behind the fallout between Robert McBride and Bheki Cele - and the ANC? McBride's testimony at the Zondo commission later this week will answer some questions, but the back-story goes back more than a decade.

The war for the soul of the ANC is a war for the country. Gangsters, cops, gangster-cops and gangster-politicians have a big stake in the outcome.

In Part 1 we outlined how a spat between Western Cape cops overlays a fight for dominance in the provincial underworld. Part 2 showed how national political battles resonate with the Cape Town scene.

Part 3 traces the central role of Robert McBride - and his not so surprising fallout with President Cyril Ramaphosa's minister of police, Bheki Cele.

Politics by other means

"We are in the thick of a full-blown war right now," political commentator Oscar van Heerden wrote last month.

Ramaphosa's 2017 Nasrec conference victory, he pointed out, was merely a battle won: "The war is still very much under way."

Both Cele and McBride were among the first to understand that then-president Jacob Zuma would fight hard and dirty to neutralise individual and institutional threats.

When they were suspended from their positions - Cele as national police commissioner in 2011 and McBride as executive director of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) in 2015 - both men hit back, using all their underground experience and political, security and information networks.

They are similar in other ways: Both are essentially poachers turned gamekeepers and both grew strong in KwaZulu-Natal, where the line between war and politics was always blurred and bleeding.

Thorns

Both were sharp thorns disrupting Zuma's state capture footwork, slowing him down, hobbling his foot soldiers.

Cele emerged as one of the most important figures campaigning against Zuma in KwaZulu-Natal, particularly in the run-up to the Nasrec conference in December 2017, where Ramaphosa narrowly edged out Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

That effort secured him the police minister's post.

Meanwhile, McBride's successful challenge of his March 2015 suspension by then-police minister and Zuma proxy Nathi Nhleko was a turning point in the fight against state capture.

In regaining control of IPID and its investigative capacity, McBride ensured the survival of the last independent state security apparatus after the police, the Hawks, the State Security Agency, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the SA Revenue Service had all fallen to the Zuma machine.

When he seized back the reins at IPID in October 2016, McBride made a strategic impact, including pursuing investigations into then acting national commissioner Kgomotso Phahlane, leading to Phahlane's own suspension.

Perhaps most crucial was IPID's intervention, on the eve of the Nasrec conference, to investigate and block the purchase by SAPS crime intelligence of a "grabber" to intercept cellphone communications.

As we shall see, McBride claims that the purchase price was intentionally inflated to deliver cash to buy off delegates to the conference - presumably to the detriment of the Ramaphosa slate.

So, up until the Ramaphosa victory, it appears Cele and McBride were broadly on the same team.

Yet by February this year, McBride's effort to have his five-year term renewed was rubbished by the ANC caucus in the portfolio committee on police - after Cele had made a negative recommendation to the committee.

So how did comrades become adversaries? To understand that we have to go back to 2009 and Cele's appointment as national commissioner.

The battle over crime intelligence

General Richard Mdluli was appointed head of crime intelligence in July 2009, the same month Cele was made national commissioner.

Mdluli edged out acting divisional commissioner for intelligence Mulangi Mphego, who became deeply embroiled in the fight against the Scorpions and the NPA in defending former national commissioner Jackie Selebi.

In 2009, Mphego took a package and left the police. (He has recently re-emerged as a special adviser to Deputy President David Mabuza - and is now regarded as broadly in the Cele camp.)      

Despite Mphego's departure, Mdluli inherited a crime intelligence network that contained pockets of hostility.

There are indications that crime intelligence agents opposed to Mdluli played a role in surfacing allegations that their new boss was involved in the 1999 murder of love rival Oupa Ramogibe - which culminated in his current trial on charges of intimidation, kidnapping, assault and defeating the ends of justice.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Then, as now, the fight was not only about who controlled access to the political and business secrets procured by grabbers and agents, but also who had access to the huge pile of slush money that constitutes the crime intelligence "secret fund".

That money bought secret perks for policemen, but it also bought influence, as we shall see.

(For example, one senior crime intelligence official told amaBhungane that the secret fund had subsidised parts of the Zuma family after Zuma had been fired as deputy president by Thabo Mbeki. This could not be independently verified.)

Mdluli was clearly unsure of his footing with Cele, because evidence emerged later that he used crime intelligence to try to exercise leverage against the then national commissioner.

In October 2010, he sent Zuma a "Ground Coverage Intelligence Report" that mainly dealt with allegations against Cele, stemming from his time as KwaZulu-Natal provincial minister for transport and policing.

The report alleged, without providing any proof, that Cele had benefited from cash and favours from companies that did business with his department.

There was significant focus on Cele's relationship with one particular KZN businessman, Panganathan "Timmy" Marimuthu.

The mysterious Mr Marimuthu

Marimuthu is a former apartheid-era policeman, turned road construction tycoon, Christian evangelist and "secret agent".

The 2006 report of the Jali commission into prison corruption states that in 1992 Marimuthu was sentenced to four years imprisonment for dealing in mandrax.

Marimuthu appealed and was released on bail. A second appeal was dismissed in October 1997 and on November 10, 1997, his application for leave to appeal was refused.

But instead of being taken into custody, in January 1998 an application was brought before a magistrate in terms of which Marimuthu was granted correctional supervision.

The commission found that "sinister and extraordinary maneuverings had taken place behind the scenes" to ensure that Marimuthu escaped incarceration and "the suspicion remains… that money changed hands somewhere".

Marimuthu used his escape well.

By 2010, he was sharing the secrets of his business success with the Joseph Business School, a United States-headquartered charismatic Christian outfit that boasts of "connecting faith in the marketplace".

Marimuthu was frank about his strategy. Speaking about "a very good friend of mine in government", he explained that he had thought about "how to get to this guy and get closer to him".

"In a Christian vocabulary we must not use 'bribery' and 'corruption'… your money must make room for you: If you don't bless somebody to get a job, then the heathen will do that and you've lost out."

He said, in 2007, his government friend advised him to buy trucks so Marimuthu could "start getting involved in construction".

"January [2008] was my first contract received for R18m and then the very same month for R32m."

By 2010, he boasted that he owned 32 houses and many high-end cars, including a Bentley and Ferrari, and that he had donated more than R20m to his church.

Crime Intelligence goes in

In 2010, the link with Marimuthu drew the attention of the agents Mdluli had tapped for dirt on Cele.

The Ground Coverage report noted, for instance: "Earlier this year after paying Lobola, Cele telephoned Timmy Marimuthu whom he had gave contracts to build roads in the Midlands Area, and told him that he wanted a house for his new wife which cost R3.2 million rand. Timmy together with … other contractors pooled together the money and purchased the house for Cele. At this stage it appears that the house is registered in the name of Timmy or one of his business entities."

Although Marimuthu and Cele did not respond to recent questions, Marimuthu told amaBhungane in a 2011 interview that Cele had never made such a request: "I don't even know when he paid lobola," he said, before denying receiving any contracts from Cele and repeatedly claiming he was "a child of God".

Cele's former spokesperson, Vuyo Mkhize, told the Sunday Times in 2013 that Cele had no control over the transport department's procurement.

AmaBhungane has also seen an affidavit from a crime intelligence agent to the effect that in conversations around the same period Marimuthu told the agent that he and Cele "were very good friends and he was looking after him as they have business deals together".

The Ground Coverage report also highlighted Cele's other alleged relationships, noting, "The taxi industry has been lucrative for him because he gained financially and has earned his respect as the head of the mafia… He now has the notorious Organised Crime Unit at his disposal in order to eliminate any threat to him. He ensured the appointment of General Johan Booysen who enjoys a healthy relationship with him and carries out his bidding."

The unit referred to is the Cato Manor Serious and Violent Crime Unit, which was later disbanded after an exposé in the Sunday Times newspaper, which claimed the unit was acting as a hit-squad.

Although the story was later partly discredited, it provided the impetus for criminal investigations against the unit and Booysen, driven by Mdluli's go-to guy, General Ntebo Jan Mabula - and racketeering charges being preferred against them by Mdluli's other ally, then acting NDPP, Nomgcobo Jiba.

While the story - subsequently withdrawn by the Sunday Times - has been criticised for mistakes and sensationalism, perhaps its gravest sin was to omit the context of the political war between Mdluli and Cele.

AmaBhungane has seen evidence that the Cato Manor story was prompted by a tip-off from a senior policeman and that gruesome crime scene photographs that provided the core of the newspaper's evidence were provided by crime intelligence.

Booysen told amaBhungane: "It will be imprudent to pre-empt my evidence at the Zondo Commission of inquiry into state capture since the 'Ground Coverage' report forms part of my submissions regarding the 'capture' of law enforcement by rogue elements within Crime Intelligence.

"I had no relationship with Mr Bheki Cele at the time of the GC report… I emphatically deny 'doing his [Cele's] bidding' at the time, or now for that matter.

"My current engagements with Minister Cele relate to addressing cash-in-transit heists since I am now working at Fidelity Security Services who deal with cash-in-transit."

Buying influence?

It appears Mdluli pursued parallel strategies to neutralise Cele.

As well as sending the damning intelligence report to Zuma, he also attempted to buy influence over Cele by recruiting Marimuthu, according to a 2012 report prepared for the Inspector General of Intelligence (IGI).

In around October 2010, crime intelligence arranged for virtually Marimuthu's entire extended family to sign police enlistment forms and it appears that Marimuthu, his wife, his son, his daughter, his brother and other family members were employed.

The affidavit of the crime intelligence officer noted: "[Marimuthu's wife] became the Commander of KZN covert office. She… very seldom came to the office… She had no knowledge or insight about crime intelligence..."

Marimuthu also received millions for the rental of covert offices and safe-houses.

Astonishingly, amaBhungane understands that much of the Marimuthu clan is still employed by the SAPS.

We put it to Cele that he has told people in private that, when he was down-and-out, Marimuthu was the only one who put food on his table; we also put the allegation to him that, after he was fired by President Zuma, Marimuthu diverted a portion of his fees from crime intelligence for Cele's benefit.

He did not respond.

We put it to Cele that the IGI is investigating the engagement of Marimuthu and his family by crime intelligence.

This may have significance in relation to Cele's decision to oppose the renewal of McBride's IPID contract.

We put it to Cele that, while the IGI has no powers to conduct criminal investigations, the close working relationship that had existed between McBride and the current IGI, Isaac Dintwe, meant the IGI investigation of Marimuthu was a threat to Cele personally were McBride to remain at IPID.

He did not respond.

Cele fights back

Mdluli's active measures to trash Cele's reputation and poison his relationship with Zuma forced Cele, then national commissioner, into the anti-Mdluli and therefore the anti-Zuma camp.

Cele did not stand in the way of the Oupa Ramogibe murder investigation and, by the end of March 2011, SAPS spokesperson Colonel Vish Naidoo could reveal: "Yes there is a warrant [for the arrest of Mdluli] and the police are acting on it."

Mdluli was charged with intimidation, conspiracy to commit murder and obstructing the course of justice.

Meanwhile, the Hawks were also pursuing him as part of a larger investigation into abuses of the crime intelligence secret fund. In September 2011, Mdluli faced further charges of fraud and corruption in the Commercial Crimes Court in Pretoria. He was alleged to have employed his friends and family as intelligence operatives, and misused police funds to purchase luxury cars.

As an aside: That case remains blocked because of the refusal of the SAPS to declassify the underlying documentation – which forms the basis of another point of conflict between McBride, on the one hand, and Cele and his generals, on the other.

Mdluli remained on the back foot, despite efforts by the Zuma faction to have charges withdrawn so that he could resume his role at crime intelligence. He remained on paid leave until after Ramaphosa's victory in December 2017. He was finally fired in January 2018.

In mid-2011 Cele's location in the anti-Zuma camp was cemented when Zuma suspended him following the Public Protector's report on the police leasing scandal.

Thuli Madonsela found that Cele's role in the dodgy procurement of two building leases for new police headquarters amounted to maladministration.

This was probably especially galling because the businessman involved, Roux Shabangu, was reportedly an associate of Zuma, not Cele.

AmaBhungane understands that Cele secretly made common cause with Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, the young major general who Zuma parachuted in to assume acting command of the SAPS – an alliance that gained significance for understanding the Cele-McBride fallout when McBride later went after Mkhwanazi.

For the next seven years, Cele waged a low-level political war against Zuma, despite the latter appointing him deputy minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries after the 2014 elections.

The way Mdluli overplayed his hand against Cele served to bury the unsubstantiated, but unanswered, allegations in the Ground Coverage report. Until now.

McBride, O'Sullivan and the generals

Zuma's second term launched the almost total capture of the security services.

In December 2014, national Hawks head Anwa Dramat was suspended; in March 2015 McBride followed.

In September, Mdluli ally Berning Ntlemeza was made the new Hawks boss and proceeded to suspend Booysen, then head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal.

In October 2015, Khomotso Phahlane was appointed acting national commissioner after Riah Phiyega's suspension in the wake of the Marikana massacre findings.

Early 2016 saw a raft of new appointments by Ntlemeza and Phahlane to the top structures of the police and the Hawks – many of whom are still in place – and many of whom became targets for McBride when he regained control of IPID in October of that year.

Meanwhile, McBride and Booysen discovered common ground and mutual respect in their resistance to state capture. The ex-ANC bomber and the ex-apartheid cop joined forces at times, sharing platforms, networks and information.

McBride also relied on another ally, private forensic investigator Paul O'Sullivan, who was dragged off a London-bound flight by a Hawks team in April 2016.

O'Sullivan had laid charges of corruption, perjury and defeating the ends of justice against Ntlemeza, Phahlane and then head of detectives General Vinesh Moonoo.

It was a critical time for the balance of state capture forces, but two court rulings turned the tide – the September 2016 Constitutional Court judgment that overturned McBride's suspension and the March 2017 decision setting aside Ntlemeza's appointment.

McBride and O'Sullivan joined forces to target Phahlane, against whom IPID brought two sets of charges.

It is alleged that two SAPS service providers that benefited from SAPS tenders had contributed more than R1m to construction costs on Phahlane's house and had subsidised his family's luxury cars.

Cop vs cop

Phahlane, in turn, accused O'Sullivan of having "unlawfully inveigled himself" into the IPID investigation "as if he were a member of SAPS".

After O'Sullivan gained access to Phahlane's gated complex to investigate his house, Phahlane appointed a team under the trusted General Mabula to investigate IPID and the "security breach", a move McBride later characterised as an attempt to stymie the IPID investigation.

O'Sullivan's active support for McBride was clearly regarded as a pressure point and the SAPS brass were later shown to have cast around for sources and witnesses from inside IPID to provide evidence about O'Sullivan's role.

Meanwhile, McBride too had cultivated his own contacts inside the SAPS, including in crime intelligence and in supply chain management.

This cloak-and-dagger maneuvering culminated in an amazing coup for McBride: The successful halting of that inflated "grabber" purchase, a deal he alleges was a last-minute effort to conjure up cash to swing the ANC election at Nasrec in December 2017.

But it was a costly victory.

Several sources sympathetic to McBride told amaBhungane they believed McBride's dogged pursuit of the grabber case was a bridge too far for his survival as IPID executive director.

It threatened to expose the political role of the crime intelligence secret fund.

It touched the new national commissioner, Khehla Sitole, as well as other generals and ANC apparatchik Bongani Mbindwane, who was then-police minister Fikile Mbalula's special advisor.

It also shook loose a source within IPID who would serve as Cele's justification when he decided McBride was not fit to be reappointed.

Grabbing the tiger's tail

At the centre of the grabber story was an obscure Durban company called Brainwave Projects 1323, trading as I-View Integrated Systems.

By December 2017, I-View was already on IPID's radar.

According to an affidavit by McBride, investigations revealed that, during the Fees Must Fall protests in December 2016, SAPS Crime Intelligence paid I-View R33m for software aimed at monitoring social media sites, known as "RIPJAR software". McBride made the affidavit in the course of seeking IPID access to crime intelligence records about the I-View contracts.

See McBride’s affidavit here

"Only two quotations were obtained for the RIPJAR software - one was obtained from I-View. The other quotation was obtained from a company called Perfect Source Solutions, whose director is the wife of I-View's sole director," McBride stated.

McBride said I-View was paid just two days after the quotation was submitted and before any agreement had been concluded with I-View: "There is no evidence that the service was ever rendered… There is no evidence that the RIPJAR software was ever installed on the SAPS Crime Intelligence systems."

McBride added that, about the same time, SAPS Crime intelligence also procured from I-View a system known as "Daedalus" to encrypt cellular phone communications, for an amount of R21m.

He alleged: "IPID has reason to believe that the Daedalus system was obtained specifically to block IPID's surveillance of the cellphone communications between the former National Commissioner, Lt-General Phahlane and a team of SAPS detectives from the North West province (led by Major General Jan Mabula), which Lt-General Phahlane appointed to counter and obstruct IPID's investigation against him for alleged fraud and corruption."

Then came the grabber contract.

In his affidavit, McBride explained that on about December 14, 2017, IPID received information from a source that General Bhoyi Ngcobo, then the acting divisional commissioner of crime intelligence, had attempted to get approval from his legal division for the procurement of a grabber for about R45m and that "the money was needed, allegedly to be laundered to buy votes at the 54th ANC conference".

"IPID subsequently obtained video footage of a meeting held on 13 December 2017 in the Courtyard Hotel in Pretoria. IPID learned from a reliable source that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss the 'emergency procurement' of the cellphone grabbing device at the bloated amount of R45m.

"Those at the meeting included the service provider [I-View]… Mr Mbindwane (then the advisor to the Minister of Police, Mr Fikile Mbalula) and SAPS senior management, specifically, Lt-General Vuma, Lt-General Tsumane and General Sitole, as well as … General Ngcobo."

McBride concluded: "On 15 December 2017, IPID contacted the National Commissioner, General Khehla Sitole… Following IPID's recommendation, General Sitole stopped the processing of payment to I-View."

The ANC conference ran from December 16 to 20, 2017, at Nasrec, with Ramaphosa winning by the narrowest of margins, backed by Cele and, unexpectedly, by David Mabuza.

After Nasrec

Initially it seemed things might get easier for McBride. By the end of February, Zuma had resigned and Ramaphosa, now president, appointed Cele to succeed Mbalula as police minister.

But McBride's pursuit of crime intelligence soon became a headache for Cele.

IPID had been trying to obtain information relating to the grabber purchase and other classified matters since early 2018. SAPS had taken a view that this information could not be handed over to IPID because it was classified intelligence.

Cele approached the IGI for his views on whether the material could be handed over.

Evidence produced by McBride shows that, in March 2018, the IGI wrote to Cele saying that declassification for the purposes of criminal investigation was "an injunction" and that "charges of defeating the ends of justice may be considered for any person who is an impediment to the investigation".

In other words, the IGI's view was that SAPS must hand over the material to IPID.

SAPS refused and, on May 21, IPID was granted a subpoena ordering national commissioner Sitole and others involved in the grabber saga to hand over all the relevant information.

Sitole in turn went to court to overturn the subpoena. The case is still to be argued in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

To make matters even more sensitive, IPID was also requesting documents related to the "secret fund" criminal abuses that had been laid at the door of Mdluli while crime intelligence supremo.

Who knew what else the IPID dragnet might dredge up from the depths of the secret fund: the truth about Marimuthu perhaps?

KGB and the ANC

IPID was also demanding SAPS disclose material relating to another project with political undertones: the employment by crime intelligence of Captain Morris "KGB" Tshabalala.

According to a parliamentary briefing prepared by IPID, Tshabalala was convicted of robbery with aggravated circumstances in 1996 and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment.

Instead of going to prison, he joined SAPS in July 2001 as an "intelligence gatherer". At the time, he did not disclose his conviction.

In 2012, he was appointed as the head of a crime intelligence operation named Rapid Deployment Intelligence, established to conduct intelligence work at the Mangaung ANC conference which took place in December that year. Tshabalala was provided with a budget of about R50m.

"This budget was not properly accounted for and as a result IPID and the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence [are] conducting an investigation in this regard," the IPID briefing stated.

In 2013, Tshabalala was arrested for another robbery which took place in Sasolburg. When his fingerprints were processed, it was discovered that he was supposed to be serving time based on the 1996 case.

The SAPS "dismissed" him, but re-employed him under an agent program after he was released on parole.

According to the IPID briefing: "He has been an agent since October 2016… He was receiving a salary of between R20 000 and R30 000, a state vehicle, fuel allowance of R5 000 to R8 000, R1 000 to R1 500 cellphone allowance and medical allowance. The handler did not assign any project and was instructed to just keep paying Captain Tshabalala."

It appears Tshabalala knew a lot of dirty secrets and had to be kept sweet.

His run of luck continued until January 2018, when he was arrested by IPID investigator Cedric Nkabinde. Tshabalala was charged for allegedly defrauding the secret service account of over R500 000.

Even then his luck held partially, because Nkabinde was soon exposed as having turned against McBride and IPID.

In May 2018, McBride suspended Nkabinde after IPID became aware that crime intelligence had approached members of IPID, allegedly promising them a promotion in SAPS crime intelligence if they agreed to give statements implicating McBride.

Nkabinde failed to disclose that he had been approached when he was called upon to do so.

In July 2018, Tshabalala's lawyer revealed that Nkabinde had approached him and offered to facilitate Tshabalala's release on bail.

In an affidavit, Nkabinde denied this. When he was shown to have lied about a crucial detail in his affidavit, the magistrate found him to be dishonest, rendering his evidence unreliable.

The prosecutor was forced to provisionally withdraw the case.

Despite this, Nkabinde's claims against McBride later formed the major plank of Cele's justification for not renewing McBride's contract.

Spy vs spy

The saga around Nkabinde shows how the battle between McBride and the SAPS brass played out.

In December 2018, McBride launched a counter-application against the SAPS bid to nullify the IPID subpoenas issued for information relating to the I-View deals.

Attached to McBride's affidavit were others that set out how IPID uncovered the Nasrec grabber deal – and the attempt to infiltrate IPID.

A key player was Brigadier Lincoln Hlungwani, a section head in the crime intelligence section responsible for administration of the Secret Services Account - the secret fund.

In an affidavit, Hlungwani explained how he had become friendly with Nkabinde in mid-2017, when the IPID investigator was introduced to him by the then-acting crime intelligence head, Major General Pat Mokushane, together with McBride and Matthews Sesoko, IPID's national head of investigation.

"They explained to me that they were busy with an investigation… which implicated Major General [Obed] Nemutandzhela, the CFO of the Secret Services Account."

He said Mokushane had encouraged him to co-operate with IPID.

Not long after that, in August 2017, Mokushane was removed as acting head, accused of falsifying his security clearance. An investigation was also opened against Brigadier Manana Bamuza-Phethle, who allegedly assisted with the falsification.

Bamuza-Phethle, Mokushane, Mokushane's wife and Hlungwani himself were also investigated in relation to R50 000 from the secret fund that was transferred into Bamuza-Phethle's personal account.

Hlungwani's affidavit takes up the story: "My working relationship with Mr Nkabinde [the IPID investigator] grew closer where I use to visit him at his guest house where I would seek advice on a matter that I was being accused of having transferred money illegally into an account of Brigadier Phetlhe…

"Around November 2017… a contact of mine warned me against being close to Mr Nkabinde as he believed he was a double agent working with our Counter Intelligence... I did not take this serious as I had done nothing wrong…"

In December 2017, Hlungwani became aware of the emergency proposal to buy a grabber from I-View for R45m.

He tipped off Nkabinde, but, it later emerged, Nkabinde allegedly did not inform his IPID colleagues.

Another crime intelligence officer tipped off IPID, leading to McBride's intervention to stop the grabber deal. That second tip-off also exposed Nkabinde for not conveying Hlungwani's warning to IPID.

Hlungwani says in his affidavit that he returned from leave in January 2018.

"I went to see Mr Nkabinde... He told me that he could not be seen with me as his colleagues have sidelined him, he then advised against giving a statement on this new I-View Integrated Systems matter as Mr McBride is a politician, is playing politics and his contract is coming to an end therefore there will be no one to protect ‘us' when he finally move on.

"He told me that I will be bringing the whole Top Management of the SAPS down and I must be aware that these people are very powerful people and have just been appointed therefore I will be fighting against the whole Police Force as I will be taking down the National Commissioner and his two deputies and the Acting Divisional Commissioner of Crime Intelligence and that the generals can get hitmen to kill me.

"He said it was not worth it and if they call me again for a statement I must call him so we can strategise as the crime did not happen therefore the IPID should let the matter go."

By February 2018, according to McBride's court application, General Mkhwanazi (the former acting national commissioner and Cele's longtime ally) had taken a statement from Nkabinde and held meetings with IPID staff wanting to solicit information about IPID high profile investigations.

The Empire strikes back

In April 2018, IPID suspended Nkabinde.

By this time, Cele was in the saddle as police minister.

On about April 28, 2018, just days after his suspension, Nkabinde secretly forwarded a raft of damaging allegations against McBride.

The IPID staffer alleged, among other things, that McBride allowed a private person – forensic investigator O'Sullivan – to conduct official investigations, had divulged confidential information to him and conducted investigations through the media in order to deliberately tarnish the reputations of targeted individuals.

In May 2018, IPID became aware of the existence of the Nkabinde report to Cele.

McBride claimed in his court application that, not long afterward, he confronted Cele in his office and asked why the minister had not raised Nkabinde's complaint with him.

McBride claimed that Cele in turn asked about General Mkhwanazi and an IPID investigation into his role in the procurement of bullet-proof vests, also via I-View.

Cele did not respond to amaBhungane questions about this.

On June 11, 2018, Hlungwani, the secret fund administrator, delivered a detailed affidavit to IPID.

On June 15, 2018, the SAPS announced Hlungwani's arrest, together with Mokhushane, his wife and Phetlhe. They were charged with fraud and money laundering relating to the R50 000 that had been paid into Phetlhe's private account.

On July 6, 2018 Cele referred Nkabinde's complaint to the chair of the portfolio committee on police as being the appropriate body to investigate allegations against the IPID executive director.

As far as amaBhungane could establish, the chair never distributed the complaint officially, though it was leaked to the media later that month.

On September 6, 2018, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane received an anonymous complaint relating to allegations of maladministration, corruption, irregular recruitment and abuse of power by McBride.

On the same day, McBride wrote to Cele about whether his term of office would be renewed. He did not receive a reply.

In November 2018, McBride wrote another letter to Cele about renewing his term.

On January 16, 2019, Cele wrote to McBride advising that he had decided not to renew his five-year contract, which ran out at the end of February this year.

That decision set off a train of litigation in which McBride argued that it was the Portfolio Committee on Police that had to decide ultimately.

Cele was forced to concede and the matter was referred to the multi-party committee at the eleventh hour for three days of bad-tempered debate, starting on February 25.

Cele produced a recommendation heavily tilted against McBride, relying on the claims of Nkabinde and the anonymous complaint to the public protector.

McBride told the committee Cele's submissions were "based on refuted or withdrawn allegations… that are informed by political motive".

"Many extremely powerful individuals have been implicated in testimonies which have been made to the various commissions. It is therefore especially important at this time, that oversight institutions are protected from interference and that IPID's investigations are not compromised."

Despite McBride's detailed efforts to refute both sets of allegations and raise questions about Nkabinde's credibility, Cele got his way.

The ANC rallied solidly behind his bid to have McBride unseated - notwithstanding argument from the Democratic Alliance that the committee was dealing with "its Scorpions moment" - reference to how the ANC had lined up behind the disbandment of the specialist crime fighting unit.

Last laugh

McBride is gone - though some of his litigation may continue - and he is due to make further disclosures to the Zondo commission on state capture soon.

As for Cele, he is now locked in battle with the national commissioner, Sitole.

Sitole was appointed by Zuma, but is said to have developed a solid rapport with Ramaphosa when they were both assigned to help defuse the 2015 conflict in Lesotho.

This week Sitole suspended deputy national commissioner for human resource management Bonang Mgwenya, Cele's closest ally at police headquarters.

Mgwenya was Cele's chief of staff when he was national commissioner from 2009 to 2011.

City Press reported that Mgwenya's suspension followed an investigation by IPID into allegations that she had used her authority to try help her son obtain a driver's licence.

Perhaps the stubborn Wentworth wide boy will have the last laugh after all.

Additional reporting by Caryn Dolley


The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, an independent non-profit, produced this story. Like it? Be an amaB Supporter to help us do more. Sign up for our newsletter and WhatsApp alerts to get more.

 

Read more on:    saps  |  ipid  |  bheki cele  |  robert mcbride  |  state capture  |  corruption  |  crime  |  police
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