KwaZulu-Natal pro-secutions boss Moipone Noko has provisionally withdrawn bribery charges against a politically well-connected businessperson, Thoshan Panday, and Colonel Navin Madhoe of the South African Police Service (SAPS), despite conceding there is a prima facie case to be made against them.
Police officials who spoke to the Mail & Guardian see it as yet another attempt to frustrate the case, because Panday and Madhoe were arrested following an authorised police sting operation captured on videotape.
The two men were accused of trying to bribe suspended KwaZulu-Natal Hawks boss Major General Johan Booysen with R2-million to quash investigations into allegations that they ran a R60-million police accommodation scam during the 2010 Soccer World Cup.
Edward Zuma, a son of President Jacob Zuma, is allegedly Panday's silent business partner. In July 2011, Zuma called on Booysen and allegedly asked him to release R15-million of Panday's money that had been frozen during the investigation. According to Booysen, Zuma told him he was a silent partner in Panday's business and had invested R900 000.
Zuma confirmed the visit at the time but said he had met Booysen to find out whether Panday was being investigated and whether he should invest in his business.
This week, the M&G asked Noko why she was provisionally withdrawing the case, but she declined to comment. "I won't talk to you," she said, before ending the call.
Panday said he was elated by Noko's decision. "Justice has been served. I was not involved in bribing anyone." He denied he was in business with Zuma and would not say whether he was involved with any other members of the Zuma family. "That would be a private matter."
Noko first raised the ire of some of her legal team at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) last year when she dropped criminal charges against two senior ANC members in KwaZulu-Natal – Mike Mabuyakhulu, the province's economic development MEC, and the provincial legislature speaker, Peggy Nkonyeni.
Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni were charged in a fraud and corruption case involving several elected ANC officials and Uruguayan businessperson Gaston Savoi.
NPA legal staff told the M&G in July last year that the removal of the acting prosecutions head, Simphiwe Mlotshwa, and the appointment of the relatively junior Noko also in an acting capacity could pave the way for the dropping of the charges against Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni. This happened barely a month later.
The M&G was told that Mlotshwa had refused to bow to pressure to withdraw the charges.
Noko's latest move has caused consternation among police officers with knowledge of the investigation.
The communications manager for the directorate of public pro-secutions in the region, Natasha Ramkisson, released a statement last week stating that Noko was provisionally withdrawing the case against Panday and Madhoe.
Ramkisson wrote that, although Noko believed there was a prima facie case against the pair, she was provisionally withdrawing the case in the interests of justice.
"She has been presented with representations in this matter that raise some concerns regarding justice," Ramkisson said. "Time is needed to investigate or follow up on these concerns raised during the representations."
Ramkisson confirmed this week that the representations had been made by the legal representatives of both Panday and Madhoe.
Booysen declined to comment, but the M&G was told by police sources that he and his team had followed procedure and applied for section 252 authority to allow them to conduct the sting operation.
According to the sources, bank statements were left with the money in a bag, which was placed in the boot of Booysen's car. These statements were traced to a bank account and this would have formed part of the court case.
Booysen is currently suspended. He was arrested and charged last year with racketeering while managing the organised crime unit based at the Cato Manor police station.
The indictment states that he ought to have known that members under his command had been committing offences.
Inflating police bills
But police sources said Booysen believes his arrest is part of a smear campaign being waged against him, and he is convinced it could be linked to the investigations he was overseeing. Booysen has said he will fight the charges, because all the shootings and cases that members of the Cato Manor unit have been charged with were allegedly reported by him to the police and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) at the time of the incidents.
Although the police and the directorate investigated them then, none of the Cato Manor unit members were charged. Some of the cases date back to 2008 and were only recently reinvestigated by a nationwide IPID team and the police, the sources claimed.
Two other cases are being brought against Panday, which Booysen was overseeing. The businessperson has not been charged in connection with the police accommodation case, although it is apparently at an advanced stage and the final forensic audit is being completed by PwC.
Police allege Panday colluded with top policemen to inflate police bills at hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments.
Madhoe headed the police's provincial supply chain management office and is accused of allegedly rigging procurement processes to make sure all accommodation deals in the province went to companies linked to Panday.
It was revealed at last year's hearing into the fitness of former national police commissioner Bheki Cele to hold office that Madhoe had signed off on a contract for Panday to accommodate 1280 policemen without it going out to tender.
Booysen's team claimed Panday allegedly inflated hotel-room prices for police guests to the tune of R60-million.
Panday claims in court papers that he did nothing wrong by block-booking hotels, upping the prices and selling the rooms to the SAPS.
Panday told the M&G he would be appearing in court in Durban in five weeks' time to fight allegations that he approached a police officer, Captain Kevin Stephen, to falsify invoices related to the contract.
Stephen was allegedly offered R1-million to secure his co-operation, but he reported the matter. There are apparently video and sound recordings of meetings between them.
Panday has denied all the charges. "I have been slandered for three years while police investigate me on the police accommodation matter. I just used the willing-seller, willing-buyer model, and there is nothing wrong with that. The whole situation has been outrageous. I am innocent of all charges, and I have never attempted to bribe anyone," he said.