On day one of the inquiry, former deputy police commissioner Hamilton Hlela told the board Bheki Cele "identified the buildings" he wanted leased.
Suspended police chief Bheki Cele told his deputy to meet public works officials to secure a building in Pretoria for leasing, an inquiry into his conduct heard on Monday.
“I initiated meetings on General Cele’s approval,” Lieutenat-General Hamilton Hlela, a former police procurement head and deputy national police commissioner, said in Pretoria.
Hlela, who resigned in August 2010, admitted to attending a meeting with public works officials in May that year to motivate a different strategy of procurement—a negotiated tender process.
Cele sat solemnly while his defence cross-examined the state’s first witness.
Cele was suspended by President Jacob Zuma in October last year, after public protector Thuli Madonsela found that the flamboyant police commissioner had acted unlawfully during the procurement of the two leases, valued at R1.6-billion.
The board of inquiry consists of chairperson Judge Jake Moloi, advocate Terry Motau SC and advocate Anthea Platt.
Leading the prosecution, advocate Viwe Notshe said earlier the state would demonstrate, through Hlela’s evidence, that Cele “identified both buildings but he did not do so openly and he refused to give Hlela the name of the person [who owned the buildings]”.
Notshe was referring to businessman Roux Shabangu, who was found by Madonsela to have been irregularly awarded the police leases.
Notshe added that Cele tried to distance himself from the name of the building (Sanlam Middestad) and that he tried to shift the blame onto Hlela during the public protector’s investigation.
During the cross-examination by Cele’s defence, led by advocate Vincent Maleka SC, Hlela said Cele had told him about both the Middestad building in Pretoria and the Transnet building in Durban.
Maleka told the inquiry that Hlela’s statement, deposed after the release of the public protector’s findings report in February, has “nothing that comes anywhere close to establishing the allegations of corruption”.
Hlela agreed with Maleka and admitted to the inquiry that he had not suggested in his statement that Cele was guilty, despite the state saying earlier on Monday that Hlela would indicate this during his evidence.
Maleka was relentless in his cross-examination of Hlela and highlighted that Hlela had not consulted Cele nor had he informed the department of public works regarding various meetings he had arranged with Shabangu.
“Would you say that instruction would be an improper instruction to make, that you must go and procure a specific building?” asked Maleka.
Hlela said the market had to be tested, and agreed with Maleka that one could not just point a finger at a building.
Asked why he had not raised that fact with Cele, he said: “I did not because he wanted the building.”
Maleka spent most of his time questioning Hlela on omissions from his written testimony submitted to the inquiry.
Maleka then put it to Hlela that it was misleading that he had not disclosed this information to Cele or to the department of public works.
Hlela said, “It was not misleading, as I was dealing with the matter.
I had to give feedback to the national commissioner on the progress.
I was going to give the national commissioner progress reports if there was progress made.”
Despite this, Hlela was adamant that all his instructions regarding the signing of the Pretoria lease came from Cele.
He earlier testified that he had found it “strange” that Cele had “all of a sudden” raised the availability of two floors in a building before the World Cup when Cele “didn’t want to talk about the move before”.
The hearing was adjourned until Tuesday when four more witnesses were expected to testify.—additional reporting by Sapa