Top crime intelligence boss loses court bid to overturn suspension over Covid-19 PPE scandal

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Lieutenant General Peter Jacobs.
Lieutenant General Peter Jacobs.
Jan Gerber
  • Suspended police Crime Intelligence Chief, Lieutenant-General Peter Jacobs, has lost a court bid to return to work. 
  • Jacobs, and five officers under his command, face misconduct charges which centre on the use of a secret police slush fund to buy Covid-19 PPE.
  • The veteran cop claims he is being pushed out for exposing graft in the uppermost echelons of the police. 

An urgent court bid by police Crime Intelligence head Peter Jacobs, in which he and five of his subordinates challenged their suspensions over a R1.5 million Covid-19 personal protection equipment (PPE) procurement scandal, was dismissed by the Pretoria High court on Friday.

The officers – at the centre of an apparent leadership purge in the cop spy unit – face charges of misconduct after allegations surfaced that they unlawfully used the division's Secret Services Account – a shadowy slush fund used to bankroll covert operations – to purchase PPE.

Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, acting on findings of an investigation into alleged “irregularities” in their tapping of the slush fund – launched by Inspector General of Intelligence (IGI) Setlhomamaru Dintwe – suspended the six in December.

READ | Crime Intelligence leadership battle heads to court

In his challenge, Jacobs argued that the charges levelled against him and the officers under his command were without basis, and that he was being sidelined for rooting out graft and exposing the looting of the secret fund.

He and the others had challenged the suspensions on a narrow technical point of law, one which hinges on the interpretation of the Intelligence Oversight (ISO) Act, and how allegedly it was subverted in order to suspend him.

He held that Dintwe and Sitole bypassed Police Minister Bheki Cele, who is the only one who can recommend suspensions and disciplinary action once he is furnished with a report from the Dintwe, in terms of their reading of the ISO Act.  

He questioned whether a report even existed, and said because Cele’s office had been circumvented, the move to suspend them was an act outside of the law.

"Whatever communication or engagement that arose between the IGI and the national commissioner is not sufficient to trigger a disciplinary response," Jacobs said in founding papers.

In December, prior to the suspensions being served, Cele and Sitole had clashed over the proposed disciplinary action and ordered Sitole to halt them. 

Defiantly, Sitole told Cele that he was confident that he was following the letter of the law, and told his political principal that the suspensions would not be held in abeyance. 

READ| Tensions escalate as Cele and Sitole clash over suspensions at intelligence division

Sitole in his submissions countered this, saying that Jacobs - and Cele - had misinterpreted the law.

"[The court challenge] is premised on an interpretation of the Intelligence Services Oversight Act that is legally untenable and unsustainable," Sitole said in his papers.

"The approach [by Jacobs] trenches on the powers and prerogative of my office… undermines my ability to discharge my obligations and seeks to clothe the minister with a power and function that he does not have."

The Act, he advanced, does not regulate suspensions, "... or preclude me as the National Commissioner from suspending employees".

He put up his own stacks of legislation, namely the SAPS Act and the Public Finance Management Act, which he said empowered him to act on the allegations of misconduct, and that his failure to do so would be criminal.

READ| Sitole stamps his authority as Crime Intelligence purge heats up

Acting Judge Jacques Minnaar, handing down judgment on Friday, sided with Sitole.

He found that the Jacobs’ reading of the ISO Act was flawed and was essentially a death knell for hope that the court would return them to their posts.

"It is clear that the provision [of the ISO Act] does not regulate suspensions at all, nor does it create the preconditions sought to be read in by the applicants," he said.

"It is the National Commissioner's prerogative as the employer to initiate investigations and disciplinary action against the six," Minnaar added.

There is nothing, he said, in the ISO which prohibited or precluded Sitole from taking disciplinary steps or launching an investigation if serious allegations of misconduct were brought to his attention.

"It follows that he needs to act swiftly in execution of his mandate," Minnaar ruled.

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