Cele attends 'hit squad' court appearance

Bheki Cele was in court for the appearance of Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit members.

FILE PICTURE: Axed police commissioner Bheki Cele during a National Press Club briefing in Pretoria on 13 June, 2012. Picture: Taurai Maduna/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Fired national police commissioner Bheki Cele was in the Durban Regional Court for the appearance of members of the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit.

Around 20 members of the unit were arrested on Wednesday in a series of raids carried out in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal by the Hawks.

The men were arrested in connection with the deaths of several suspects.

Members who were arrested will apply for bail.

According to the Hawks, undisclosed amount of counterfeit cash, stolen property and dockets were seized during the raid.

They face charges of murder, assault, theft and possession of unlawful firearms and ammunition.

The Hawks said on Wednesday it was expecting to arrest more members of the notorious unit.

Arrested members launched an urgent court application to have their arrests declared unlawful, but only received an order granting a chance to secure their freedom.

Bail applications are not usually reviewed during a first appearance.

Members of the squad had heard of their looming arrests on Tuesday night and in turn offered to hand themselves over to police.

The Hawks' McIntosh Polela said, "The warrant that we had, also allocated an opportunity to us to conduct search and seizures. It would be counterproductive if we suddenly had people rounded up in the same area and arrested. Of course we declined."

A joint investigation by the Hawks and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) resulted in 60 detectives conducting search and seizure raids at homes across Durban and Gauteng on Wednesday.

The 'hit squad' was led by Major General Johan Booysen.

It was disbanded earlier in 2012, after allegations surfaced that officers had been involved in the deaths of several suspects.

Booysen always maintained that the allegations were part of a smear campaign.

He was not among those arrested on Wednesday.

In 2011, the Sunday Times reported the unit had a hand in a few assassinations, some of which were in retaliation to police killings.