/ 29 April 2015

Hawks boss: I was ‘set up’ to silence corruption investigations

Major General Johan Booysen says he has no plans to quit
Major General Johan Booysen says he has no plans to quit

KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Major General Johan Booysen is suing the state for R10.5-million in damages following his arrest and prosecution, with members of the Cato Manor organised crime unit, over allegations they were operating a “death squad”.

The 57-year-old police officer was charged with racketeering, murder and defeating the ends of justice in 2012 by the then acting national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has now taken Jiba to court on two counts of fraud and one of perjury relating to her failed attempts to prosecute Booysen.

Booysen’s letter of demand for R10.5-million has been sent to the NPA, the South African Police Service and police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), which initially investigated the Cato Manor allegations.

Booysen has sought damages for malicious prosecution, contumelia (insult to dignity) and a potential loss of future income. Although he has given notice of his intention to sue in a civil court case, there has been no response to his letter of demand sent in March.

NPA spokesperson Velekhaya Mgobhozi said Booysen’s letter of demand has been referred to its legal team.

NPA turmoil
The NPA is itself in turmoil, with the embattled current national director of public prosecutions (NDPP), Mxolisi Nxasana, facing a commission of inquiry launched by President Jacob Zuma over whether he is fit for office.

In addition, the number of expensive civil suits being brought against the NPA is soaring, said legal staff. The Mail & Guardian recently reported that the former judge president of KwaZulu-Natal, Chiman Patel, is suing the state for R3-million in damages for malicious prosecution on what he claims are false charges.

By taking Jiba to court over the prosecution of Booysen, NPA staff said Nxasana is sending a strong message that the alleged abuse of its prosecutorial powers will not be tolerated.

This week Booysen told the M&G he believes he was set up and criminally charged to stop him pursuing specific cases of corruption. And although he was the prime target, it is his view that the Cato Manor unit members were “the collateral damage” in the onslaught against him.

Cato Manor police were charged with the unlawful killing of taxi operators, ATM bombers and armed robbers, and Booysen was accused of being in control of the operation.

Twenty-four police officers from the unit are still suspended on full pay, with two having died since their arrest. Booysen said the police officers are planning to mount a court challenge to their case.

“There is not one iota of evidence that Cato Manor was getting paid to stage hits on the taxi industry,” claimed Booysen, who believes the deaths of the suspects occurred either during shoot-outs or in the line of duty.

Blighted career
Booysen said his career prospects have been blighted. Because he has international police training, he was planning to apply for a post at the United Nations when he retires at 60 in three years’ time. “But now when you google my name, what comes up is ‘death squads’,” Booysen said. “What really upsets me is that much of my time over the past three years has been spent trying to clear my name, instead of using all that energy to fight criminals.”

After a series of court applications to fend off his suspension, including an interdict against national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega, who wanted him to step down, things finally turned around for Booysen. Last year Judge Trevor Gorven granted Booysen’s application to have the charges against him set aside in the Durban high court.

Members of the Cato Manor organised crime unit. (Khaya Ngwenya, Gallo)

In court papers, Booysen accused Jiba of being “mendacious” when she said she considered statements and other information in the police docket before making her decision to charge him. This assertion by Booysen was met with “a deafening silence” from Jiba, Gorven said in his judgment.

“Most significantly, the inference must be drawn that none of the information on which she says she relied linked Mr Booysen to the offences in question,” the judge wrote.

The documents on which Jiba says she relied did not provide a rational basis for her decision to charge Booysen, Gorven stated, adding: “Even accepting the least stringent test for rationality imaginable, the decision of the NDPP (then Jiba) does not pass muster.”

During an internal police disciplinary inquiry, Booysen was also exonerated by the chair, Nazeer Cassim SC. “The facts demonstrate an agenda to get rid of Booysen because he was perceived (rightly so, I may add) as a determined, professional, competent and tenacious policeman who would arduously strive to bring wrongdoers to book,” Cassim wrote in his report.

Booysen says he has vigorously pursued criminal investigations, which he believes could be the reason why charges were allegedly trumped up against him.

Some recent cases involved businessperson Thoshan Panday, who was once said to be a business partner of Zuma’s son Edward, and the police’s Colonel Navin Madhoe. Panday and Madhoe were arrested following an authorised sting operation captured on videotape.

The two men were accused of trying to bribe Booysen with R2-million to quash investigations into allegations that they ran a R60-million police accommodation scam during the 2010 football World Cup. These bribery charges were withdrawn by KwaZulu-Natal prosecutions boss Moipone Noko, and an advocate in her office declined to prosecute the police accommodation scam case.

Another case involved KwaZulu-Natal provincial police commissioner Lieutenant General Mmamonnye Ngobeni and her relationship with Panday. When Ipid investigators were looking into whether either Ngobeni or Panday had paid for a birthday party for her husband, Brigadier Lucas Ngobeni, she refused to hand over her receipts, it was claimed in an affidavit Booysen handed to the court. An advocate in Noko’s office declined to prosecute this case against Ngobeni.

Full support
Hawks head Anwa Dramat, who was never charged but was accused for years of involvement in the illegal rendition of Zimbabweans, recently opted to resign from his job. Booysen said Dramat gave him his full support after he returned to work in September last year.

Both Dramat and suspended Ipid head Robert McBride asked Nxasana to review decisions taken in the cases involving Panday, Madhoe and Ngobeni, which are now underway, said Booysen.

Unlike Dramat and other crime-fighters who have chosen to walk away from what they see as an onslaught against them, Booysen does not plan to quit his job.

“Someone once said: ‘For evil to thrive, good men must do nothing,'” said Booysen. “I always tell my family that Nelson Mandela slept in prison for 27 years, fighting for what he believed was right, and I have only spent one night in jail even though I have been persecuted for three years.”