Alarm sounds over Mdluli's souped-up spy powers

Since his reinstatement, controversial crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli has been granted extra powers to spy on emails, phone calls and text messages.

In a parliamentary question and answer session, it was revealed that Mdluli is now in charge of approving any application for interception of communications—a power he was apparently only granted after he was returned to his position as head of crime intelligence in March.

Effectively, while any Hawks officer is allowed to apply for interception from a high court-appointed judge as part of an investigation, Mdluli is the gatekeeper who decides whether the covert investigation of any South African citizen or resident’s communications will take place.

“Richard Mdluli is, as a result, in an extremely powerful position,” said the DA’s spokesperson on police matters, Dianne Kohler Barnard, on Wednesday.

Accordingly, the opposition party has called for a full scale parliamentary inquest into Mdluli, who is mired in controversy following the levelling—and subsequent withdrawal—of fraud and murder charges against him.

Mdluli has fervently denied the accusations but remains a “person of interest” in a murder inquest that will determine whether charges ought to be reinstated.

Mdluli is also considered a close ally of President Jacob Zuma and a member of what has been dubbed the president’s “phalanx of praetorian guards”—a group of powerful figures allied to Zuma and each other.
It has been suggested that it is the influence of members of this group that led to the dropping of charges against Mdluli.

Mdluli was initially suspended in February when police management instituted disciplinary proceedings against him but was reinstated on March 27 following a meeting between Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, acting national police commissioner Lieutenant General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe.

This week it emerged that National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach was suspended after threatening to challenge the decision not to prosecute Mdluli. Two attempts on Breytenbach’s life were also reported to have taken place over the past month—although no link to the Mdluli cases has been established. The NPA also insists there is no link between her suspension and the Mdluli matter.

Parliamentary inquest requested
Despite the allegations against Mdluli not being tested in court, the DA says the controversy around the police spy boss warrants a full investigation by Parliament into whether he is suitable for the powerful position he holds.

“[Head of crime intelligence] is hardly a position the DA believes he should be in,” said Kohler Barnard on Wednesday.

Accordingly, Kohler Barnard asked Sindy Chikunga, who chairs of the police portfolio committee, to order a special hearing that will investigate all charges against Mdluli.

Chief among the DA’s concerns appear to be the apparent willingness of senior political figures, including Zuma and Mthethwa, to stifle investigations into Mdluli, as well as why Mdluli has been granted increased powers since his reinstatement.

Tables turned
Despite his powers to listen in on others’ messages, it is the public who has been eavesdropping on Mdluli’s missives after a letter Mdluli wrote to Zuma in November last year was leaked to the press. In it he claimed to be the victim of conspiracies by police top brass who wanted him out because he was seen to be a “Zuma man”.

He reportedly named suspended national police commissioner General Bheki Cele, Gauteng police commissioner Mzwandile Petros, head of crime detection Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya and Hawks head Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat as the officers who had conspired to have him removed.

On Thursday, the Times reported that Mdluli was waging an all-out war against those he had named as part of the supposed conspiracy.

Petros has dismissed Mdluli’s claims, telling the National Press Club in Pretoria on Tuesday that he didn’t have time to plan Mdluli’s downfall: “There is too much crime in Gauteng. When you get involved in a conspiracy, you need time ... I have my hands full ... I will leave it at that.”—Additional reporting by Sapa

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