Thursday, December 3, 2020

South Africa: Independent police investigator probing ex-police chief in corruption case shot dead

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Experienced IPID investigator Mandlakayise Mahlangu faced arrest and had received death threats as he pursued South Africa’s then top cop, but he didn’t give up.

In a week’s time, former acting national police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane is set to appear in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Palm Ridge over fraud and corruption charges involving R84-million. A culmination of years of investigation.

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But Mandlakayise Mahlangu, a seasoned investigator who worked for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), which has oversight over the SAPS, won’t see Phahlane in court. He was shot dead on his Jakkalsdans plot during an apparent house robbery in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

The incident, a police statement said, took place at about 3:30am, when a group of men held Mahlangu and a worker at gunpoint on his plot, not far from Cullinan. The men shot Mahlangu and fled in his Nissan Hardbody NP 300 bakkie, taking some household items. Mahlangu called himself a part-time game farmer as well as an investigator.

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“I am of the opinion that the robbery is just a smokescreen. I believe he was assassinated because of what he knew,” says Certified Fraud Examiner, Paul O’Sullivan, who was at a time contracted to investigate Phahlane, with Ipid.

It was a high-profile investigation that was to result in a face-off between the police watchdog body and the top cop who had a “posse” of North West policemen lay counter-charges against the investigators.

The Ipid investigators led by Mahlangu were instructed to look into the construction of Phahlane’s home at the exclusive Sable Hills Estate, north of Pretoria. This had allegedly been funded by a police service provider. His personal vehicles were also allegedly sponsored.

It was during this investigation that both O’Sullivan and Mahlangu became the target of death threats sent via SMS, on the same day.

One SMS read:

“…his [Paul O’Sullivan’s] days are numbered. we r on his heels. u must either die with him. we r watching u boy. we r about to finish paul.”

The other read:

“…if you want to leave [sic] long in peace take my advice and stay away you’re being used by high authorities and you will suffer as alone stay the hell away from my relative or I will come after you.”

It soon became apparent that the messages were possibly sent by SAPS members. In an affidavit filed by Mahlangu, crime data analyst Thereza Botha was able to trace the source of both SMSs. The handset of one of the phones was linked to a SAPS member who was stationed at OR Tambo International Airport.

“And when that SAPS member was interviewed by Ipid, he claimed that he lost his phone earlier. And we found that all very, very suspicious,” says O’Sullivan.

The other phone used to send the other SMS was traced to a SAPS cellphone mast. At the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, former Ipid boss Robert McBride told how Phahlane set up a counter-investigation to thwart the corruption probe linked to him. This was allegedly set up through Major-General Ntebo Jan Mabula, with other policemen from the North West.

This, McBride said, happened a couple of months after Ipid began investigating Phahlane and investigators had visited his house. They were charged with intimidation, extortion, racketeering and breaching security. O’Sullivan, his assistant attorney Sarah-Jane Trent and Ipid investigators Mahlangu and Temane Binang were arrested.

The charges were later dropped. Ipid then sought a court order preventing the “Mabula hit squad” from investigating their investigators.

On 17 March 2020, Phahlane and several top cops are to appear in the Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Palm Ridge in a fraud and corruption case involving an alleged R84-million. This relates to tender irregularities that included radios, blue lights and sirens in Gauteng police vehicles.

Spokesperson for Ipid Sontaga Seisa declined to say which cases Mahlangu was investigating.

“He was a colleague,” was all he would say

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Seisa referred all inquiries to the police. The police said they considered the motive for the killing to be robbery.

“No, it suits them to look at it as a robbery. They need to go a lot deeper than that, you need to look at who would benefit from this,” says O’Sullivan.

And that is a very short list indeed.

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