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[EXCLUSIVE] Mbalula moves to seize control of Crime Intelligence unit

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has effectively seized command and control of the police’s Crime Intelligence unit and has sidelined acting National Commissioner Lesetja Mothiba.

FILE: Police Minister Fikile Mbalula. Picture: Christa Eybers/EWN

PRETORIA - Eyewitness News can reveal how Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has effectively seized command and control of the police’s Crime Intelligence unit, and has sidelined acting National Commissioner Lesetja Mothiba.

It emerged last month that Mbalula had issued a ministerial directive to the unit. Now EWN can reveal that despite Mothiba’s attempts to resist what have been described as irregular and unlawful instructions from the minister, the unit now reports directly to the police’s political head.

Meeting minutes and confidential information notes which EWN has seen reveal Mbalula:

  • believes Crime Intelligence officers are illegally spying on him and carrying out a campaign to discredit him.

  • has ordered several promotions of generals be rescinded, and another general’s transfer out of the unit.

  • receives weekly intelligence briefings from the head of the unit.

  • has been added to the police’s daily intelligence briefing mailing list.

  • issues instructions directly to the head of Crime Intelligence, bypassing the acting national commissioner.

Security and police analysts, former senior police officers and Crime Intelligence insiders have told EWN that what Mbalula is doing is highly irregular and breaks down the recognised chain of command within the police.

Instead of responding to the allegations and concerns, Mbalula’s office warned EWN about possible criminal prosecution.

“The Minister of Police derives his directorial and oversight authorities from the constitution and the SAPS Act,” said Mbalula’s spokesperson Vuyo Maga.

“We would therefore like to draw your attention to laws that prevents operational issues of intelligence services of South Africa being peddled publicly.

“Such illegal information peddling as insinuated by the questions posed to the Minister of Police gives rise to illegality and prima facie suspicion that you may be in possession of illegally obtained information of which is a criminal offence.

“Therefore Minister Mbalula will not be drawn into discussing classified information or plans with anyone who is not authorised,” he said.

WHO’S THE BOSS?

The newly-appointed Crime Intelligence acting Divisional Commissioner is Major General Bhoyi Ngcobo, a former Crime Intelligence member who left the unit to become the team leader of President Jacob Zuma’s protection services in 2009. He moved through the ranks to become the national head of the police’s VIP protection services in July last year, before returning to the unit in the acting capacity in August 2017.

Ngcobo replaced Major General Pat Mokushane, who had served about two months in the acting position. Mothiba removed Mokushane after irregularities were discovered in the issuance of his top secret security clearance.

An investigation by head of Counter and Security Intelligence, Major General Dumezweni Zimu – the report of which EWN has seen – found that Brigadier Leonora Phetlhe had unlawfully instructed the vetting section commander to print the security clearance of Mokushane, despite him not having gone through the vetting process. Phetlhe is the section head of the Technical Support Unit. Zimu states that this instruction was unlawful and unprocedural. He recommends that Phetle be investigated by the Inspector General of Intelligence, and also that criminal or departmental action be pursued against her.

Zimu further recommends that Phetlhe be suspended or transferred pending the finalization of the case: “This officer should not be exposed to the sensitive Crime Intelligence environment until her security competence is confirmed”.

MINISTERIAL DECREE

In a Ministerial Directive issued last month, directed at Ngcobo and copied to Mothiba, Mbalula lists 25 instructions “which must be performed and the Minister advised of any challenges thereof.”

Among the list is a directive that the promotions of a Major-General Khan and a Colonel Skhosana be rescinded, because he regards them as irregular. Elsewhere in the letter, Mbalula instructs the Divisional Commissioner to “institutionalise the minister’s daily intelligence briefing … which will culminate into a once-weekly full briefing to the minister on all key threats, key assessments and gathered intelligence of a serious nature.”

According to the minutes of a Crime Intelligence executive management meeting on 16 October – which EWN has seen - Ngcobo informed those gathered that he was now required to present weekly intelligence briefings directly to the minister every Tuesday, which confirms he was acting on Mbalula’s instructions. Ngcobo further instructed that Mbalula be added to the daily intelligence briefing distribution list.

In relation to the appointment of Khan, Ngcobo is noted as saying he is in the middle of a dispute as both the minister and Mothiba are giving him instructions. This comment reveals how Mbalula is potentially undermining the acting national police commissioner’s authority, and disrupting the chain of command.

MOTHIBA RESPONDS

In a 17 October letter to Mbalula, Mothiba rejects the instruction to rescind the promotions of Khan and Skhosana. “The promotions mentioned above are not the only promotions affected by this office and the Minister is not providing any evidence of any irregularity. This office is convinced that the promotions are procedural and stands by the decisions to promote the officers,” he writes.

Mothiba points out that other promotions were made at the same time as Khan’s and Skhosana’s, but the minister only takes issue with these two without providing any valid reason for doing so.

Other correspondence which EWN has seen reveals that Mbalula told Mothiba at a meeting in Cape Town that he believes Khan is unlawfully spying on him, and that Khan and a Colonel Simelane are investigating him as part of a plot to tarnish his name. Mbalula further accuses Simelane of running a campaign against him back in 2007, when he was still leader of the ANCYL.

Mothiba informs Mbalula that he takes these allegations seriously, and advises the minister to either open criminal case against the pair or report them to the Inspector General of Intelligence so that the allegations can be investigated.

Further evidence of the minister’s apparent interference is contained in a letter Mothiba sent to Ngcobo, in which he questions the Divisional Commissioner for ignoring his instruction to suspend Brigadier Phetle based on Zimu’s findings. In another letter, Mothiba instructs Ngcobo to implement the promotions of Khan and a Colonel Skhosana. He warns his subordinate that failure to implement the instruction will result in disciplinary steps being taken against him.

In a separate incident, Mbalula sent another letter to Ngcobo instructing that Zimu – who investigated Phetle – be redeployed outside of Crime Intelligence because he didn’t have security clearance. Mothiba responded by explaining that Zimu did not have the clearance through any fault of his own, and the matter was being prioritized for urgent vetting.

Zimu is not alone. An audit of Crime Intelligence top brass reveals that out of 14 major-generals, only six have top security clearance, while only 17 of 35 brigadiers have been cleared.

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

Professor Rudolph Zinn from Unisa’s Department of Police Practice says in terms of the Constitution and the Police Act, the national commissioner manages the police while the minister provides policy direction and oversight. He says it appears Mbalula has taken over some of the functions of the national commissioner. “If the minister starts issuing directives (to Crime Intelligence), which is completely different to direction, it means he is then controlling the unit and the unit must do what he wants them to do or investigate what he would like them to investigate,” he said.

The Institute for Security Studies head of the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme Gareth Newham says while the Constitution gives the minister the responsibility of giving direction to the police, it is silent on where that line should be drawn or how that direction should be constrained.

“Internationally there has been a growing movement towards trying to ensure that political principals – ministers in charge of the police – provide largely a policy guidance directive and ensure the police operationalize those and spend their budgets according to those policy directives.

“This is done to try prevent political direction on operational matters – like when to have an operation, who to arrest or not arrest, who to be fired or appointed – because the political head is often not a trained police professional and they should really be playing more of a directive role in terms of policy and oversight and accountability.”

Zinn says it’s very worrying if Mbalula is issuing instruction directly to Crime Intelligence, and those instructions are being acted upon. “Crime Intelligence has the ability to perform covert and overt operations and have funds to be able to do so, and it’s very difficult to be able to control what they are doing on a day-to-day basis. If the minister was able to control this unit, and exploit it for whatever reason, possibly politically driven, it would be difficult to pick up on this,” he says.

Zinn says Ngcobo providing intelligence briefings directly to Mbalula undermines the chain of command and the police structure. “It is not normal. What would usually happen is that the divisional commissioner would report to the national commissioner, the national commissioner would then brief the minister and other parties or bodies which deal with crime intelligence.

“What if the minister hears what he does not like to hear or seeks other information – will he then give another directive to the divisional commissioner to pursue the matter? This is a problem when you have a direct link between the unit and the minister,” he said.

But Newham says there is nothing in law precluding the minister from getting any information that they need from the SAPS. “We might need to question why the minister would want the information, but there is nothing in law which precludes it.

“Ideally what would happen is that the national commissioner has the legal responsibility for ensuring that the police are properly run, that they are effectively managed, that there is discipline, and that intelligence is being used correctly.

“The national commissioner would report directly to the minister on any information that the minister might require,” he says.

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