/ 22 August 2008

Key affidavit used to smear Scorpions

As the fate of the Scorpions hangs in the balance, an investigation by the Mail & Guardian has uncovered a key document used to discredit the unit.

The M&G has found that the document was:

  • actively solicited by intelligence bosses, apparently under false pretences;
  • collected personally by police crime intelligence chief Ray Lalla, who features in the Scorpions’ investigation of National Commissioner Jackie Selebi;
  • immediately leaked to the Zuma camp; and
  • part of a coordinated effort by the country’s intelligence services to discredit the Scorpions and wreck their case against Selebi.

The document in question is an affidavit by Scorpions KwaZulu-Natal head Lawrence Mrwebi, who spoke to the M&G this week.

It describes a meeting of the Scorpions top management on July 25 last year on the African National Congress’s (ANC) June policy conference resolution to bring the unit under police control.

Mrwebi’s affidavit claims Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy suggested the Scorpions adopt strategies to reverse this decision ahead of the December Polokwane conference, including a campaign to lobby politicians and business to support the unit’s retention.

Mrwebi signed it on September 27 last year. Ten days later, details of his allegations appeared in two Sunday newspapers.

A version of the affidavit obtained by the M&G shows it was sent out from the fax machine of Yunis Shaik — brother of Zuma’s jailed financial adviser Schabir and his long-time strategic adviser Mo — on October 9.

Neither this version nor the newspaper articles disclose that the information came from Mrwebi’s affidavit. Instead, the document was repackaged as ”abbreviated minutes” for the meeting — wrongly dated June 25 — and supposedly drafted by an unnamed source.

This document was crucial to the ANC’s case that the unit was involving itself in politics, and it was circulated and discussed at the party’s highest levels.

The formal version of Mrwebi’s affidavit emerged only in January this year as exhibit number one of Jackie Selebi’s high court bid to block his arrest. Selebi said the affidavit showed his investigation was a strategy to ensure the Scorpions’ survival.

Until now, it was assumed Mrwebi decided to record his concerns about the July 25 meeting and might have leaked the information and passed the affidavit to Selebi.

He was suspended by the Scorpions after the Selebi hearing and faces disciplinary charges.

This week Mrwebi revealed the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the creation of the affidavit, saying he is fed up with being portrayed as the ”bad guy” who betrayed his colleagues.

He said Ray Ralla and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) operations chief Arthur Fraser approached him and persuaded him to make a statement while purporting to act on behalf of the special presidential task team mandated to investigate the Special Browse Mole report.

Browse Mole was a Scorpions document drawn up in 2006 under McCarthy’s supervision that suggested Angola and Libya were funding Zuma and that some of his supporters were debating extra-legal methods to ensure his political survival.

Newspaper report (PDF)

Read the Sunday Independent report titled ”Scorpions team discussed ‘spin’ to maintain status quo” (October 7 2007)

In July 2006, McCarthy presented the report to National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli, who dismissed its contents as ”raw intelligence” and passed it to the NIA and the South African Secret Service.

In May last year, a version was leaked to the Congress of South African Trade Unions, unleashing a storm of criticism alleging the Scorpions were illegally gathering intelligence. President Thabo Mbeki asked the National Security Council to investigate its origins.

The task team presented an initial report in July 2007 dismissing the report as the work of former apartheid agents acting as ”information pedlars”.

Mrwebi told the M&G Lalla and Fraser, members of the presidential task team, first came to him because McCarthy claimed part of the Browse Mole document had been sourced from the Scorpions’ KwaZulu-Natal office.

The focus soon shifted, however. In a series of meetings in August 2007, Mrwebi says he was confronted with information in the task team’s possession relating to the Scorpions’ July 2006 meeting and the discussion of the ANC policy resolution.

”They came to me and said that they had a piece of information that the [Scorpions] had a meeting to counter the Polokwane proposal. They told me they got the information from their own sources …

”I initially wanted to deny [knowledge] but it became clear they had detailed information …”

Mrwebi said he initially could not see any connection between the meeting and Browse Mole.

Indeed, it is unclear how the task team’s terms of reference were interpreted to involve a broader investigation of the Scorpions, including the July 25 meeting.

However, on reflection, Mrwebi decided the Scorpions’ meeting provided context to the unmandated gathering of political intelligence for the Browse Mole report.

He corroborated information in possession of the task team and later agreed to provide an affidavit.

”I gave it to Lalla and no one else,” Mrwebi told the M&G.

In internal correspondence relating to his suspension he noted: ”… my affidavit was a top secret document meant for the National Security Council and obtained to corroborate the information they apparently had in their possession.

”I was assured of the secrecy of the document … It was not meant for Mr Selebi and I can’t explain why and how Selebi got access to the document. Maybe the National Security Council may help you in this regard.

”My instructions at the time I made this affidavit were that I must not disclose its contents or the contents of any other matter where I assisted the National Security Council to anyone and I do not intend doing so even now.”

In legal documents challenging his suspension, Mrwebi has attached a letter from Fraser dated May 19 confirming Mrwebi provided ”cooperation” in the Browse Mole investigation had been in possession of ”valuable information”.

It appears the presidential task team also interviewed others who attended the Scorpions meeting.

On September 28 last year, the day after the Mrwebi affidavit, Western Cape Scorpions boss Adrian Mopp also provided a short statement about the July 25 meeting, which did not support Mrwebi’s version. It was attached to one of Zuma’s Mauritius court applications, apparently in error.

Attempts to contact Mopp to find out how his statement could have reached Zuma’s lawyers were unsuccessful.

Neither the NIA nor the police have explained the leaking of Mrwebi’s affidavit. However the provision of the information to Selebi seems part of a pattern.

An affidavit obtained by NIA boss Manala Manzini and police crime intelligence Deputy Chief Mulangi Mphego from murder accused Glenn Agliotti made similar claims about the Scorpions being involved in a political campaign against Selebi, by using Agliotti.

Agliotti later recanted the affidavit. The M&G has established that the document, signed on January 4 and given to Manzini and Mphego, was faxed to the number of Selebi’s advocate Jaap Cilliers the next afternoon.

Cilliers declined to discuss how he obtained the affidavit.

The NIA and SAPS both declined to answer questions about whether they supplied the Agliotti and Mrwebi affidavits to Selebi.

The NIA disclosed, however, that Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils was not informed about the meeting with Agliotti.

Scorpion trap: How the DSO was smeared

July 2006
Browse Mole report suggests Angola and Libya were funding Jacob Zuma.

May 2007
A version of the Browse Mole report is leaked to Cosatu. The Scorpions are criticised for illegally gathering intelligence.

July 2007
A presidential task team dismisses the report. Lawrence Mrwebi, the Scorpions’ KwaZulu­Natal boss, later says the task team approached him because of claims that part of the Browse Mole report came from the KwaZulu­Natal Scorpions.

September 2007
Mrwebi signs an affidavit about a July 25 meeting of the Scorpions that discredits them. The next day a statement made by Western Cape Scorpions boss Adrian Mopp about the July 25 meeting reveals discrepancies in Mrwebi’s version.

October 7 2007
Mrwebi’s allegations appear in two Sunday newspapers.

October 9 2007
A version of the affidavit is sent from the Shaik brothers’ fax machine but it wrongly dates the Scorpions’ meeting as June 25.

January 4 2008
Glenn Agliotti signs a document claiming the Scorpions used him in a political campaign against Selebi.

May 19 2008
A letter from NIA operations chief Arthur Fraser confirms Mrwebi cooperated in the Browse Mole investigation.

Research: Sam Sole, Nic Dawes and Stefaans Brümmer