/ 4 December 2007

Did police bungle Yengeni arrest?

A senior Cape Town police officer may face disciplinary charges after making conflicting statements on the time of the recent arrest of former African National Congress chief whip Tony Yengeni for drunken driving.

Western Cape police provincial Commissioner Mzwandile Petros announced on Tuesday that Goodwood station commissioner Senior Superintendent Siphiwe Hewana was served with notice of suspension earlier in the day. Hewana has 48 hours to respond.

The step follows news reports that police may have bungled the arrest by delaying taking a blood-alcohol sample beyond the accepted two-hour window. One newspaper on Tuesday quoted Hewana as saying the sample was taken only ”about three-and-a-half hours” later.

However, Petros, speaking at a media briefing at provincial headquarters, was at pains to insist that the arresting officers had followed procedure, and that Yengeni’s blood was taken not more than an hour-and-a-half after the arrest. This was ”well within the time”, he said.

Yengeni is on parole after serving on a few months’ jail time for his 2003 conviction for defrauding Parliament by failing to disclose a discount on a 4×4 Mercedes-Benz. He was arrested in Goodwood on the night of November 25 after his black BMW swerved and landed on a traffic island.

Petros said the time of arrest was correctly stated on the case docket as 12.30am on Sunday night (Monday November 26), and this was the time Hewana initially gave in writing in a report to the provincial office.

Later in the week, Petros said, he ”picked up” that 9pm on Sunday was being given as the time of arrest. He asked Hewana about this, and Hewana this time told him, again in writing, that the arrest happened at 9pm.

Petros said that following an investigation by the provincial head of detectives, Commissioner Thulani Ntobela, he summoned Hewana to his office on Tuesday morning to challenge him on the inconsistency. ”I didn’t get any joy this morning in terms of the information that came from him,” Petros said.

He said once Hewana has responded to the notice of suspension, he will apply his mind to Hewana’s possible suspension. If he is suspended, an investigation will follow.

Petros declined to say whether he thought Hewana had been ”enticed” to give a different arrest time. ”I don’t want to say I suspect anything at this particular moment,” he said.

However, he noted that Western Cape police have arrested a number of their own members for defeating the ends of justice. ”We’ll be seeing this thing in the same light,” he said. ”We are not going to tolerate people who are committing such crimes … we view it as a serious offence.”

Petros said it normally takes three to four months for blood test results to come back.

Yengeni is to appear in court on the drunken-driving charge on March 19 next year.

Among the conditions of his parole are that he may not use liquor, or drugs other than those prescribed by a doctor, until September 23 next year, nor may he visit any place where liquor is consumed. — Sapa