Is Dramat the latest victim of Zuma's wrecking ball?
Circumstantial evidence suggests the extraordinary suspension of Hawks commander Lieutenant General Anwa Dramat may have been designed to protect Zuma Inc – the network of financial and business interests surrounding President Jacob Zuma and his family.
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko issued Dramat with a letter of suspension on December 23 2014.
An explosive December 24 letter from Dramat to Nhleko obtained by amaBhungane shows Dramat blames the move against him on his decision to focus on investigating “very influential persons”.
A source close to Dramat – and two police sources – have told amaBhungane the investigations Dramat referred to include the criminal probe relating to the controversial R246-million security upgrade at Zuma’s Nkandla homestead and the investigation of a flamboyant Durban businessperson linked to the Zuma family.
Dramat refused to speak to amaBhungane.
Nhleko suspended the Hawks commander just three weeks after the Constitutional Court removed the minister’s power to suspend him before a parliamentary disciplinary process has begun.
Democratic Alliance policing spokesperson Dianne Kohler Barnard said Nhleko’s action is in contempt of the country’s highest court and represents “a constitutional crisis”.
Although Dramat has indicated he might be prepared to go quietly and take early retirement, the Helen Suzman Foundation is preparing for an urgent court challenge to the suspension early next week.
The foundation brought the case that resulted in the ruling by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng on November 27 last year that strengthened the independence of the Hawks in several important ways, including restricting the suspension or removal of its head.
Nhleko appears to be aware he is on shaky legal ground.
The letter from Dramat to Nhleko obtained by amaBhungane suggests the minister initially cited the expunged provisions of the South African Police Service Act and, after back-pedalling, is now attempting to rely on public service regulations, as though Dramat was an ordinary employee.
The minister has gone to ground – his spokesperson did not respond to calls and emailed questions – but Dramat’s letter makes it clear that the purported reasons for the suspension revolve around the so-called Zimbabwean rendition case.
The 2010 case involved the alleged illegal cross-border delivery to the Zimbabwean police of several Zimbabwean criminal suspects, some of whom appear to have been subsequently executed.
The role of the Hawks in tracing and extraditing the Zimbabwean nationals appears to be well established, but Dramat’s knowledge and the question of whether the deportations were effected illegally appears to be contested terrain.
Dramat told Nhleko: “The so-called Zimbabwean rendition investigation is a smokescreen. There are no facts whatsoever that indicate at any given time I have acted illegally or unlawfully …
“This investigation is already complete and handed to the national director of public prosecutions. It goes without saying that, had there been prima facie evidence against me … I would have been charged and prosecuted.”
The docket and a recommendation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) were delivered to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in about April last year, but according to NPA spokesperson Nathi Mncube, no decision on the matter has yet been made.
He refused to disclose the nature of the recommendation by the Ipid, but amaBhungane has learned that Ipid director Robert McBride has taken the unusual step of offering direct support to Dramat.
It is understood that McBride held a meeting with Dramat and his legal representatives in Cape Town last week, following Dramat’s suspension.
According to a source familiar with the contents of the meeting, McBride told the meeting that the Ipid investigation exonerated Dramat and found that there was evidence of an attempt to implicate him falsely.
McBride told them this was the finding of the final report or recommendation forwarded to the NPA and the minister, and he offered to state this under oath if so required.
McBride’s office did not deny these claims but referred all queries to the police ministry.
Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini would only say: “The Ipid conducted its investigation and submitted its report to the National Prosecuting Authority.
The contents of that report cannot be disclosed until the NPA has made its decision.”
Evidence of manipulation
The legal scrambling and institutional contradictions are indicative of a rushed effort to sideline Dramat after the Constitutional Court judgment. The burning question is: Why?
Constitutional law professor Pierre de Vos told amaBhungane: “Either the minister received atrocious legal advice or he deliberately ignored the Constitutional Court ruling to protect people from a Hawks investigation.”
The evidence that Dramat’s suspension is tied to the interests of Zuma Inc is circumstantial – but suggestive.
Exhibit A: Dramat’s letter to Nhleko
In a heartfelt and hard-hitting six-page missive, Dramat wrote that his suspension was “pregnant with ulterior motives” and that “a decision had already been made to remove me from my position”.
He notes: “You are aware that I have recently called for certain case dockets involving very influential persons to be brought or alternatively centralised under one investigating arm and that this has clearly caused massive resentment towards me.”
Elsewhere Dramat warns: “I am also aware that in the next two months there will be a drive to remove certain investigations that fell under my ‘watch’, reallocate certain cases and that, unfortunately, certain sensitive investigations may even be closed down.”
Dramat said he was left with a choice of “whether to fight, continue trying to operate within the system in order to effect meaningful change by investigating and root[ing] out corruption, which has reached the level of epic proportions” or to conclude he had done all he could for his country and the time had come to put his family first.
Dramat refused to comment this week, but a source very close to him has confirmed that shortly after the Constitutional Court judgment he had asked for the Nkandla dockets to be transferred to the Hawks.
The suspension of Anwa Dramat by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko could be challenged in court. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
National police spokesperson Solomon Makgale denied this, saying there was never such a request. It was also denied by Hawks spokesperson Paul Ramaloko.
The dockets, which deal with the criminal aspects of the Nkandla upgrade, are currently under the supervision of SAPS head of detectives Lieutenant General Vinesh Moonoo, who reports to national police commissioner Riah Phiyega.
One of the rulings of the court was that the Hawks’s power to select cases was not subject to the approval of the minister or the national commissioner.
In addition, amaBhungane has been told by a senior police official that Dramat had taken a personal interest in the raft of investigations relating to Durban businessperson Thoshan Panday and late last year had indicated that supervision of these investigations would be transferred to the Hawks head office.
Exhibit B: The Panday saga
Panday is the Ferrari-driving associate of Zuma’s son Edward and also of the president’s cousin, Deebo Mzobe.
His ability to get out of trouble –at the expense of at least two police generals – had, according to the well-placed police source, attracted Dramat’s attention.
Panday appears to be the nemesis of Major General Johan Booysen, the regional head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal. Panday has consistantly denied wrong doing and claimed he was a pawn in a political battle.
Commissioner Phiyega wrote to Booysen on December 10 – coincidentally around the same time that Nhleko wrote to Dramat – putting Booysen on terms to indicate by December 19 why he should not be discharged “in the interest of the service”.
Phiyega said there was “a complete breakdown of trust” between Booysen and provincial commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni because of “the serious allegations you have made against the provincial commissioner during [your] disciplinary hearing”.
Unlike Dramat, Booysen chose to go to court to challenge this attempt to oust him. In his court papers he sets out the history of the disciplinary case against him – and the role allegedly played by the investigation of Panday.
In obtaining an urgent interdict preventing Phiyega from firing or transferring him, Booysen argued that the attempt to oust him was in bad faith and “intended to undermine investigations by the directorate, which may implicate the provincial commissioner”.
He stated: “After my appointment as provincial head of the directorate, I commenced an investigation into certain procurement irregularities within the South African Police Service. Initial investigations revealed possible corruption involving senior police officers and a private businessman.”
The person referred to was Panday, who would later be arrested in relation to allegations of fraudulent and inflated contracts for the provision of police accommodation.
Booysen states: “Strange things began to happen with regard to this investigation. On 10 May 2010 the provincial commissioner in KwaZulu-Natal, Lieutenant General Ngobeni, instructed me to stop the investigation.” Booysen says Dramat instructed that the investigation should continue.
He said Panday complained directly to Ngobeni, who instructed him to investigate the investigating officer in the matter, Colonel Vassen Soobramoney.
“The ensuing investigation revealed that Panday had paid for a birthday party of the husband of the provincial commissioner and that the provincial commissioner herself had arranged the party,” Booysen alleges.
According to Phiyega’s spokesperson, the matter involving Ngobeni was investigated and handed to the NPA. “After due consideration, the NPA decided not to prosecute … There are no known investigations against General Ngobeni.”
In fact, in December, Phiyega renewed Ngobeni’s contract for another five years. Others who came up against Panday were not so fortunate, including Booysen, Soobramoney and General Deena Moodley, then the regional head of crime intelligence.
In August 2011 Panday and another suspect in the police procurement case, Colonel Navin Madhoe, were arrested after a sting operation for allegedly attempting to bribe Booysen with a R2-million payment to compromise the investigation.
Later the same year, Booysen himself was arrested after gruesome allegations and pictures were published suggesting the Cato Manor serious and violent crime unit – which fell under Booysen’s command – was guilty of acting as a “hit squad”.
Although the case against members of the unit is still pending, Booysen launched a successful high court challenge of the decision to charge him, which the judge found was not supported by the evidence on hand.
A few days later, in March 2013, he was served with a notice for a disciplinary inquiry involving the same allegations relating to his oversight of the Cato Manor unit.
It was at this disciplinary hearing that Booysen gave full expression to his claim that he was being victimised for his investigation of Panday – and where he produced Soobramoney as a witness.
According to the findings by the chair of the inquiry, advocate Nazeer Cassim, Soobramoney’s investigation had reached an advanced stage when he was unexpectedly visited by two senior officers from Gauteng, then crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli and former crime intelligence paymaster Solly Lazarus.
Both Mdluli and Lazarus have been involved in protracted legal battles over allegations that they abused crime intelligence funds.
“These two officers informed him that his life was in danger and that he should immediately relocate to Gauteng. He followed instructions … and since then has been isolated from active duty and, in a nutshell, rendered ineffective.”
Cassim said Soobramoney had literally been “orchestrated out of KwaZulu-Natal”.
He criticised Ngobeni’s failure to appear to rebut the allegations against her and was highly critical of Phiyega, who did testify. Cassim found Booysen not guilty and
recommended that he should return to work to “do what he is best suited to do, that is, to fight crime”.
Instead, Phiyega is seeking to review the decision of her own appointed disciplinary panel – and is set to challenge Booysen’s interdict in March.
Panday, meanwhile, was unburdened of all the charges against him.
In February 2013 the newly appointed director of public prosecutions in KwaZulu-Natal, Moipone Noko, ordered the case involving the alleged attempt to bribe Booysen to be provisionally withdrawn.
Although Noko believed there was a prima facie case, her spokesperson said “she has been presented with representations in this matter that raise some concerns”.
Those “concerns” are understood to contain allegations by Panday that Moodley, the provincial crime intelligence boss, illegally intercepted his calls and attempted to use the information to blackmail him to testify against Ngobeni, the provincial commissioner.
Despite denials from Moodley, Phiyega has placed him and some of his subordinates on special leave and has seized the recordings.
The same claims were used to justify a decision in April last year to withdraw the procurement case against Panday and his co-accused.
It is these decisions that Dramat was said to have challenged.
The NPA national spokesperson confirmed that the national director of public prosecutions had “received representations from the Hawks” on the Panday matter and had referred the matter to a team of prosecutors from outside KwaZulu-Natal for a decision.
Ramaloko ‘redeployed’ in Hawks purge
The Hawks’ national spokesperson, Paul Ramaloko, has become the latest victim in the purge at the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.
He was apparently suspended for commenting on the suspensions of the Hawks’ top brass, including Anwa Dramat.
But Ramaloko is said to have been redeployed and replaced by a provincial police spokesperson.
He initially claimed he was still the Hawks’ spokesperson but later said he had been “promoted” because the acting Hawks head wanted his own people.
A source told the Mail & Guardian on Tuesday that Ramaloko was suspended from the directorate.
The decision was discussed in marathon meetings on Wednesday, according to the source.
Ramaloko said on Thursday morning: “It [the suspension] hasn’t happened. I am on duty as I speak to you. I am saying this on record that I am the active national spokesperson of the Hawks.”
When Ramaloko was later contacted, less than 10 minutes after his initial denial, he admitted that he would no longer speak on behalf of the Hawks.
“The decision was taken that Hangwani Mulaudzi would speak on behalf of [Major General Berning] Ntlemeza [acting head of the Hawks],” Ramaloko said.
National police spokesperson Solomon Makgale said he had redeployed Ramaloko to the police’s national media centre.
Makgale said Limpopo police spokesperson Mulaudzi would now serve as the national spokesperson of the Hawks.
“What we have done is that we have moved him to the media centre because we have moved [Neville] Malila to Cape Town,” Makgale said.
When asked why he moved Ramaloko, Makgale responded: “Why not?”
Ntlemeza was appointed on December 24 following Dramat’s suspension pending further investigations into his role in the Zimbabwean rendition debacle.
Since then, Gauteng Hawks head Major General Shadrack Sibiya and Colonel Leslie Maluleke were served with a notice of suspension on Monday.
Ramaloko said “the truth” was that Ntlemeza would prefer “his own person to speak for him”.
“Acting General Ntlemeza would want to work with people he is comfortable working with. That is all,” he said. – Qaanitah Hunter
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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.