Inside operation Destroy Lucifer

A covert police operation and a related National Intelligence Agency project not only let Jacob Zuma off the hook, but also appear to have cut a destructive swathe through efforts to combat organised crime.

A Mail & Guardian investigation of ‘Operation Destroy Lucifer” suggests that state intelligence capacity was used:

  • to spy on the National Prosecuting Authority;
  • to find out what evidence the Scorpions had on national police commissioner Jackie Selebi;
  • to try to ‘turn” key Selebi witness Glenn Agliotti;
  • to entrap Scorpions investigator Ivor Powell; and
  • to try to interfere in the battles between the ANC and the DA in the Western Cape.
In addition, the operation seems to have had the effect of compromising Scorpions and NIA projects to penetrate Chinese crime syndicates linked to both Agliotti and Western Cape gang bosses.

‘Destroy Lucifer” is the South African Police Service crime intelligence operation that was used to justify the surveillance of former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy.

Intercepts from it were leaked to Zuma’s lawyer, leading the NPA to abandon the Zuma prosecution.

Details of what amounted to a war against the Scorpions have emerged from court cases around the country, and the M&G‘s own inquiries.

The Jiba case
The M&G revealed in February that police had monitored McCarthy’s cellphone conversations. This emerged from the disciplinary hearing against a Scorpions prosecutor, Nomgcobo Jiba, suspended in November 2007 for helping police secure an arrest warrant for Gerrie Nel, the Scorpions head in Gauteng.

A police task force arrested Nel on January 8 last year, at the height of the battle over the Scorpions’ attempt to charge Selebi, in an apparent bid to disrupt the Selebi investigation.

In support of Jiba, Gauteng deputy provincial police commissioner Richard Mdluli—a regional crime intelligence boss—filed an affidavit in which he revealed that the police had bugged McCarthy.

Mdluli alleged the interception of McCarthy’s conversations flowed ‘from a completely different investigation that was conducted against certain persons involved in drug dealing”, including, he claimed, McCarthy.

The Zuma and Selebi cases
More evidence about the monitoring of McCarthy emerged from revelations of his alleged consultations with former prosecutions chief Bulelani Ngcuka about the Zuma case.

It was clear from limited transcripts released by the NPA that before and after the ANC’s December 2007 conference McCarthy was continuously monitored—including in conversation with senior NPA colleagues, ministers and even former president Thabo Mbeki.

After the Zuma case was dropped, police leaks to the media also disclosed the existence of taped conversations between McCarthy and Ngcuka—and former deputy justice minister Johnny de Lange—concerning the Selebi case.
It was suggested that Selebi might use the tapes to block his own prosecution.

City Press quoted an intelligence source as saying there were ‘mounds and mounds of tapes”, dealing with matters ranging from the Browse Mole investigation—in which Ivor Powell featured prominently—to ‘conversations on drug operations in the Western Cape”.

It is understood that police have provided Selebi’s lawyers with 12 CDs of recordings. The same material has not been handed to the NPA, however, because of questions raised about the legality of the disclosures.

While Selebi’s relationship with Agliotti is the focus of the Selebi case, the underlying context is Agliotti’s alleged involvement with organised crime, in particular with Chinese syndicates and their smuggling of drugs and cigarettes.

One count against Selebi relates to a massive drug bust involving a container with mandrax hidden among boxes of tiles.

Agliotti arranged transport for the container—on behalf of a certain Mrs ‘Mommy” Chen—and Selebi is accused of failing to act against him.

The Mphego case: ‘Destroy Lucifer” unmasked The existence of an official police operation targeting the NPA—and its bizarre title—was only confirmed in May during the court appearance of acting SAPS crime intelligence boss Mulangi Mphego.

Mphego’s advocate, Salie Joubert, told the Randburg magistrate’s court: ‘Mr Mphego is engaged in investigations against members of the [NPA] regarding abuse of office—espionage, corruption, leaking of government information to newspapers, money laundering, blackmailing — So these charges are intended to suffocate this criminal intelligence investigation.”

Joubert told the court that the investigation was codenamed ‘Destroy Lucifer” and that Gerrie Nel, Andrew Leask—the prosecutor and lead investigator in the Selebi case—were suspects, together with five other current and former NPA members.

Mphego is charged with defeating the ends of justice, flowing from events in January 2008 when he and NIA director general Manala Manzini secretly obtained an affidavit from Glenn Agliotti, in which Agliotti recanted his previous evidence against Selebi.

This happened when the Scorpions were poised to arrest the commissioner and Selebi used Agliotti’s affidavit as a major plank in efforts to have charges against him dropped.

Nel, who is prosecuting Mphego, said it was strange to hear of a secret police operation in open court. He also revealed that NIA operations chief Arthur Fraser was also present at the secret meeting with Agliotti.

Fraser’s presence suggests the attempt to ‘turn” Agliotti was an official operation, not a frolic by individuals—though it is unclear if it formed part of ‘Destroy Lucifer”.

The Ivor Powell case
The police have declined to answer questions about ‘Destroy Lucifer”—or name the other suspects.

However, M&G investigations indicate Mphego himself authorised the bugging of McCarthy in terms of the ‘Destroy Lucifer” operation—and that another ‘suspect” monitored was Cape Town-based Scorpions investigator Ivor Powell.

A senior intelligence source told the M&G that McCarthy had been monitored at least since June 2006. Authorisation was obtained on the basis of investigating whether McCarthy, Powell and another senior NPA official, known to the M&G, were leaking information about police operations against Cape gangsters, particularly Igshaan Davids, a leader of the Americans gang.

The timing of the decision to monitor McCarthy is significant. Concerns about ‘leaks” in the Western Cape seem to have emerged at the time the M&G revealed, in May 2006, that the Scorpions were investigating Agliotti and his relationship with Selebi and slain mining magnate Brett Kebble.

Another Destroy Lucifer target appears to have been Robyn Plitt, the Scorpions investigator leading the Kebble probe at the time.

A special police team arrested Powell on January 22 last year—days after charges against Nel were withdrawn following his dramatic arrest.

The reasons given were that Powell was driving over the alcohol limit and that he was picked up because police wanted to apprehend Davids, who was in Powell’s car.

However, M&G information indicates that Powell was set up by a registered crime intelligence informer, Franklin Gray, who attended an earlier meeting between Powell and Davids.

It is understood that Powell was attempting to recruit Davids as a source and that the gang leader had information about networks linking Western Cape and Gauteng drug and abalone syndicates, which could have had a bearing on the Selebi inquiry.

The Philip du Toit case—and the mysterious Mr Lau
Central to understanding the operation of the syndicates is the role of the local Chinese mafia, who dominate access to ephedrine, used in the manufacture of the drug Tik.

Currently under way in the Atlantis regional court is a remarkable case against NIA source Philip du Toit. Du Toit penetrated the some of the same organised crime networks to which Igshaan Davids had access—including getting close to Stanley Lau, wanted by the Chinese authorities since 2003 for his alleged involvement in shipping nearly four tonnes of mandrax to South Africa.

The SAPS—including an officer who the M&G was told was the Western Cape point man for ‘Destroy Lucifer”—played a key role in arresting and unmasking Du Toit as an NIA agent.

Du Toit, who faces charges relating to illegal abalone, was recruited as an NIA agent precisely because of his access to Chinese syndicates.

Skilled in electronic surveillance, he was formally registered by the NIA on January 31 2007, even though he had already been arrested twice in connection with abalone smuggling.

On September 2007 the police, led by crime intelligence, raided his home and arrested him again.

This time there were suggestions that police were really looking for surveillance records implicating Cape Town mayor Helen Zille in illegal spying on controversial councillor Badih Chaaban, and other tapes rumoured to exist that would embarrass then-premier Ebrahim Rasool and provincial commissioner Mzwandile Petros.

At his bail hearing, Du Toit was outed as a NIA agent and on September 26 he was deregistered and cut loose by NIA, which had earlier negotiated with the Scorpions to take over Du Toit as their agent.

Attempts by two Scorpions members to salvage Du Toit’s position led to them being temporarily arrested by the police.

Whether Du Toit was another casualty of ‘Destroy Lucifer” is not clear—and may never be, as his NIA handler was forced to give evidence in camera.

What is clear is that he was lost as a unique intelligence asset operating at the heart of the Western Cape underworld.

What is also clear, according to one former Scorpion, is that as soon as he took office as commissioner in 2000, ‘Selebi was determined to take out the Scorpions”. It seems ‘Destroy Lucifer”—also launched in 2000—was designed to achieve that.

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