/ 7 June 2023

Fearing his safety, top cop skips parliament hearing on Eskom graft

African Mining Indaba 2023
Brigadier Jap Burger is central to the fraud and corruptions claims made by the power utility’s former chief executive André de Ruyter. (David Harrison)

Senior police officer Brigadier Jap Burger did not appear before parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on Wednesday — against the orders of the national police commissioner — after allegedly saying he feared for his safety.  

Burger is considered integral to investigations into the fraud and corruption claims made by former Eskom chief executive André de Ruyter, in which at least one ANC politician is allegedly involved in directing criminal cartels.  

Burger was tasked by the national police commissioner, Fannie Masemola, as the go-to officer with whom De Ruyter could liaise about the information gathered by the privately funded intelligence operation undertaken by the George Fivaz Forensic and Risk company, at De Ruyter’s request. 

Masemola told the committee that he did “direct” Burger to be at Wednesday’s meeting, “but I don’t see him”.

“He did raise some concerns about appearing publicly, about his security, and so on. I still said he should come, but I do not see him here,” added the commissioner.

He said that any remedies Scopa wanted to take regarding Burger’s non-appearance would be at the behest of its chairperson, Mkhuleko Hlengwa.

De Ruyter first made the allegations about orchestrated looting that allegedly involved a senior ANC politician during an interview with news channel eNCA in February. But when he appeared virtually before Scopa in April, citing the potential for lawsuits, he refused to name that politician or the cabinet minister who allegedly knew about the looting — now known to be Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan.  

In the affidavit he submitted to Scopa for that appearance, De Ruyter also expanded on the interactions he had with law enforcement agencies about the nature and scope of the malfeasance and corruption, which was gathered by the privately funded intelligence operation. He said that Burger had full access to all of the intelligence that was gathered. 

Hlengwa said it was common cause that when De Ruyter and law enforcement agencies first appeared before Scopa, “there was a constant and permanent reference to the work that was done by Brigadier Burger and the fact that he seemed to be the common denominator in all interactions, with the minister of police even making reference to him”.

He said given what Scopa had thus far heard about the saga, Burger seemed to be “the man with the information”.

Many of the questions that were asked of people who previously appeared before Scopa about the Eskom allegations were answered with “that is the purview of Brig Burger”, said Hlengwa. “So his absence this morning handicaps this meeting.”

Hlengwa said he considered Burger to be “awol”, and saw his absence as undermining Masemola.  

Democratic Alliance Scopa member Alf Lees said he did not regard Burger’s excuse as valid, given that there was security at parliament, and that police could provide him with security if necessary.

He also said the South African Police Service presentation put before Scopa on Wednesday (but not tabled) was “nothing new”.  It was all reactive, he said. There were no pre-emptive intelligence reports supplied by the police.

What should have been placed before Scopa, said Lees, was a report about investigations emanating from the Fivaz reports.

“We should not be looking for cables to be stolen and then looking for the criminals. I would suggest that brigadier Burger must come … I haven’t heard any justification for him not to come.”

It was also not feasible to suggest that Scopa should protect Burger’s identity, said Lees, because his name was already “out there”. The police commissioner had himself made Burger’s name public, he said, and there were countless photos of him on social media.

Responding to questions from Scopa members, Masemola said the police “know where we are going” with the Eskom investigation, and “think we are on the right track”.

He said there was “no issue” with protecting Burger, as the police could handle this. The issue would come in after Burger testified before Scopa. “What then would the implications be to himself and his life?”

Masemola said he had not phoned Burger before the meeting on Wednesday to check on his safety, because he had expected him to be at the meeting.

Later, he told Scopa: “We are not afraid to tackle Eskom,” adding that it was, however, a “contested space”. 

“The law enforcement is but one angle in resolving the Eskom problem, and there are other deep rooted problems at Eskom that need to be addressed.” 

Also in attendance at the meeting was advocate Andy Mothibi of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU). He told Scopa that the unit had received the Fivaz report from that company, and that at last count, it was more than 1 000 pages and included 13 sub-reports. 

“We are currently going through this report. We are subjecting it to the SIU investigation methodology and protocol.” 

The report would inform further SIU investigations and referrals, Mothibi added. 

“We are acutely aware that we have to deal with this report as urgently as possible to determine the course of action,” he said.