/ 6 July 2009

The Hawks: A new era in crime-fighting

The police’s new unit to combat organised crime, the Hawks, won’t discriminate against Scorpions investigators who were involved in the corruption probe of President Jacob Zuma when it appoints its sleuths.

This was the firm commitment by head of the Hawks, police Deputy Commissioner Anwa Dramat, at the launch of the newly established elite unit at Gallagher Estate in Midrand on Monday.

“It won’t count against you if you were involved in any other investigation previously. The people involved in the investigation into President Zuma won’t be disqualified for selection to the unit,” Dramat told a press conference following the official launch of the Hawks by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Dramat also confirmed that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations — the Hawks — would take over 288 investigations from the Scorpions, and that these will be “finalised properly”. These include the corruption probe of police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi and the arms-deal investigation.

Earlier, Scorpions head Thanda Mngwengwe symbolically handed over a list of the 288 dockets to Dramat.

Mngwengwe advised Dramat to grow a “thick skin to weather the storms and challenges ahead”.

“I also urge you [Dramat] to put the country before your personal needs. You don’t have to be a socialite. I wish you good luck,” said Mngwengwe, who spent a few months as head of the now-defunct unit after Leonard McCarthy joined the World Bank at the end of last year.

Dramat said the launch of the Hawks was the start of a new era for the fight against corruption and organised and commercial crime.

Although the Hawks will not have a dedicated anti-corruption leg, the unit’s commercial branch, organised-crime unit and high-tech centre will all be contributing to its anti-corruption capacity, Dramat said.

Dramat earlier quoted Zuma as saying that there was no time for complacency in the fight against crime, and said the Hawks would leave “no stone unturned” in fighting organised crime.

The Hawks would be visible and its members would undergo regular vetting to ensure that the unit employs only “people beyond reproach”.

Mthethwa praised members of the Scorpions who agreed to be transferred to the Hawks, and said the new unit would help to correct the “mistakes of the past”.

His deputy, Fikile Mbalula, was, however, more blunt about the reasons for the Scorpions’ demise, and blamed the unit for its “unconstitutional use of the media” (according to the Hefer commission) and for its “unauthorised intelligence activities” (as pointed out by the Khampepe commission).

In response to a question as to when the Hawks will officially begin working, Dramat said that the “work never stopped”.

There was a “smooth transition”, and 1 700 people have already been screened to be appointed by the unit.

Dramat praised the Scorpions’ ability to “rally people behind them”, and said his unit would be taking a feather out of their cap. He didn’t want to elaborate on the Scorpions’ mistakes, saying he prefers looking at what the unit achieved.

The Hawks will have offices in all nine provinces, which will be headed by nine deputy provincial commissioners, reporting to Dramat and their provincial heads.