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2023-05-07 at 15:41 #403584Nat QuinnKeymaster
South African police minister Bheki Cele may have lied to Parliament when he denied his involvement in the illegal procurement of phone call interception and surveillance equipment, City Press reports.
The publication has obtained an email that suggested the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Investigating Directorate (ID) had not cleared Cele of any wrongdoing in the procurement, despite his claims to the contrary in Parliament last month.
In March 2022, Sunday Independent reported that the police’s crime intelligence division had spent just shy of R112 million in 2019 on cellular interception devices (IMSI-catchers or “grabbers”), surveillance drones, and precise mobile location vehicles.
While the equipment was delivered in early 2020, an Inspector-General of Intelligence report declared the purchase a fruitless and wasteful expenditure because it could not be used and was gathering dust in a warehouse.
According to National Treasury regulations, the grabbers had to be issued with exemption certifications by being categorised under “listed equipment” before being bought.
Because the police had failed to do this, the transaction was unlawful.
Cele had reportedly requested the certificates multiple times after the equipment was bought, but his requests were denied, as this could not be done after the fact.
Furthermore, the drones had the incorrect specifications, which meant that only two police members had the proper licences to operate them.
In addition, the report said a crime intelligence colonel had manipulated the bid specifications in favour of a British grabber supplier.
It is also alleged that the police used some of the equipment to spy on journalists and politicians, regardless of being illegal.
Example of an IMSI-catcher or “grabber”. Photo: firstname.lastname@example.org (CC BY-SA 4.0)
New crime intelligence boss allegedly protecting Cele
Suspended crime intelligence secret services chief financial officer Brigadier Tiyani Hlungwani first implicated Cele in the purchase in an affidavit submitted in early March 2023.
That came in response to allegations from recently-appointed crime intelligence boss Major General Dumisani Khumalo that Hlungawni was in possession of a state vehicle without permission.
City Press reports that Hlungwani was instrumental in foiling a previous attempt to buy the equipment at an inflated price, exposing that transaction during the ANC’s 2017 elective conference.
He claims to be the whistleblower that first brought the R112-million transaction to the Inspector-General of Intelligence.
In his responding affidavit, Hlungwani alleged that the appointment of Khumalo in December 2022 served to shield Cele and other senior police officials from possible criminal investigation.
He also said he was being targeted for opening criminal cases against former senior crime intelligence officer Peter Jacobs, who had allegedly gone to the UK with KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanaz to buy the grabbers.
In April 2023, Cele told Parliament that Hlungwani’s allegations against him were false and maintained that the ID had not implicated him in any wrongdoing.
But City Press reported this is false, citing the email and sources close to the investigation saying he was still a suspect.
NPA Investigative Directorate head Andrea Johnson told a senior police official that her division would do its work unhindered and without undue influence or interference.
Johnson also told the paper there had been no communication between the ID and Cele’s office, including over his alleged involvement in the transaction.
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