The presidency was “not aware” of plans to suspend police National Commissioner General Bheki Cele, a spokesperson said on Sunday.
“I am not aware of any letter that is in preparation [for Cele’s suspension]. The reports are based on rumours,” said Mac Maharaj.
He said the report, which claimed Cele’s suspension was imminent, could “contribute to instability in police management”.
He was responding to a report in the Sunday Times that President Jacob Zuma was expected to sign Cele’s letter of suspension this week on his return from the United States.
Maharaj said a quote by him relating to Cele’s suggested suspension in the newspaper was “taken out of context”.
The newspaper said, “This has the potential for causing some uncertainty in the police force, and that’s not good [in the fight against crime].”
‘Step in the right direction’
The Democratic Alliance said if claims that the suspension were true, it was “a step in the right direction”.
“But we are mindful that Cele has emerged as a political opponent of the president in the run-up [to the ANC elective conference in Mangaung],” said spokesperson Athol Trollip in a statement on Sunday.
He said the motive behind the rumoured suspension should be scrutinised to ensure it was for the right reasons.
“There is a simple way of telling whether this suspension is because of a new-found committment to political accountability, or whether it amounts to selectively purging a political opponent,” Trollip said.
“If President Zuma takes the same action against Minister of Public Works Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, then we might be convinced that his motives in suspending Cele are sound.”
The Congress of the People said it was for the suspension and called on Zuma to act on it immediately.
“We cannot move forward as a country with a police commissioner who is involved in criminal and corrupt activities,” its leader Mosiuoa Lekota said in a statement.
Cele’s spokesperson Nonkululeko Mbatha was not immediately available for comment.
Taking it seriously
Last week, Maharaj said Zuma took the report seriously which was why he had decided not to make a “hasty or haphazard” decision.
However, he was quoted in the newspaper as saying the lease deal scandal had “the potential for causing some uncertainty in the police force and that’s not good”.
DA spokesperson Diane Kohler Barnard said that if the Sunday Times report was true then it was appropriate that an experienced officer who worked his or her way up the police ranks be appointed to the post.
The last two “civilians” appointed to the position were embroiled in scandals, she said.
Last week, Mahlangu-Nkabinde filed papers in the North Gauteng High Court in a bid to have the contracts declared null and void. She said the lease deal for police office space was entered into before her appointment as minister.
The Sunday Times reported that Zuma’s office confirmed that Cele was served with a notice of the “intention to suspend” him on August 29 over the protector’s reports. Cele’s lawyers filed detailed responses.
Zuma is trying to suspend Cele, apparently as part of a move to purge the security services.
Two independent sources have said that Zuma, before his trip to Norway at the end of August, wrote to Cele saying he would establish a board of inquiry in terms of the Police Act and gave Cele five days to indicate why he should not be suspended.
Apparently the reasons given in the president’s letter related to the police lease deals with Shabangu.
But both sources said the move against Cele was being driven by factional battles in the African National Congress and Zuma’s doubts about Cele’s loyalty.
Neither the presidency nor the commissioner’s office would confirm information about the letter.
Mbatha, said she knew nothing about the matter and referred queries to the presidency, although she said the SABC and the New Age newspaper had phoned her about the same information.
No ‘bit-part’ response
Maharaj said he would not comment on an internal communication. Zuma was dealing with the public protector’s report and he would not “engage in responding bit by bit”, he said.
“I don’t know whether such a letter exists but I am not prepared to comment … There will be an announcement when the president has completed the process.”
It is understood that Zuma’s gambit to unseat Cele stumbled over a misinterpretation of the Police Act. Section 8 gives the president the power to establish a board of inquiry only “if the national commissioner has lost the confidence of the Cabinet,” giving Cele the opportunity to argue that there was no evidence to support this conclusion.
It is understood that Cele vigorously defended his role in the leasing scandal, which he has publicly blamed on officials and practices he inherited on taking office.
It is also understood that those in the Cele camp regard the timing of the letter as an attempt to remove the commissioner before the announcement of the national crime statistics on September 8.
The figures, showing a drop in most crimes, gave Cele a boost that will make it politically more risky to take action against him.
Several sources in the intelligence community told the Mail & Guardian that the allegations made by suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli were central to Zuma’s doubts about Cele and the shake-up in the State Security Agency.
In October last year Mdluli declassified a secret report — styled a “ground coverage intelligence report” — on “corruption and related activities” in KwaZulu-Natal. It is understood he sent the report to Zuma at about the same time.
The report focused heavily on Cele, claiming that he was part of an anti-Zuma faction which included Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Arts Minister Paul Mashatile, and that Cele was involved in organised crime and corruption in KwaZulu-Natal.
Cele has denied the claims.
The report appears to have been drafted at the time when Mdluli became aware of a renewed investigation into allegations that he had orchestrated the 1999 murder of Oupa Abel Ramogibe.
Ramogibe, whose wife was alleged to have previously been Mdluli’s lover, was shot while in the company of policemen.
It is understood that Cele, soon after Zuma appointed him in July 2009, made the re-opening of the Ramogibe investigation a priority.
Mdluli’s appointment as head of crime intelligence was backed by Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, a political rival of Cele and a vocal backer of Zuma.
The Mdluli report found its way into the public domain at the time of his arrest in March this year.
The M&G reported last week that the Mdluli report was also largely behind the tension between State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele and his domestic intelligence chief, Gibson Njenje.
The report said Njenje had resisted pressure from Cwele to place senior ANC leaders mentioned in the Mdluli report under surveillance.
Now another source has linked foreign intelligence boss Moe Shaik to the investigation of Mdluli.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Shaik had instructed slain underworld figure Cyril Beeka to help track down evidence relevant to the Mdluli murder investigation.
The source, a colleague of Beeka, said: “A week later Cyril was killed.” There is no evidence to suggest any link between the Mdluli saga and the murder.
Mdluli is due back in court on December 14 but, in an apparent bid to shore up the case against him, new charges were laid against him this week.
Polela said the new charges related to fraud and corruption.
According to Hawks’ spokesperson McIntosh Polela the case relates to a discount negotiated by Mdluli for two vehicles bought officially by crime intelligence. It is alleged that Mdluli negotiated a discount and a R50 000 loan from the vehicle dealer, which were to be used to offset a shortfall on his personal vehicle.
Polela would not confirm other newspaper reports that claimed Mdluli had been behind the registration of girlfriends and some of their relatives as paid intelligence sources or employees.
Mdluli’s lawyer, Ike Motloung, described the allegations of fraud and corruption against Mdluli as “a joke”, part of on-going attempts to frame him.
“He was released on bail of R2 000, which has to tell you something,” he said.
Motloung said the state had been ordered by the Boksburg Magistrate’s Court to have its indictment on the murder charges handed in by September 30. “The state now has to show what it has really got.” – Sapa, M&G