The head of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigations (DPCI), famously known as the Hawks, General Godfrey Lebeya says suggestions the elite crime-fighting unit has a hit list targeting political opponents of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration are bogus.
Speaking to Sunday World in an exclusive interview on the merits of several criminal cases against prominent politicians, Lebeya vowed that under his watch, the unit would never become a political hit squad.
This comes as a dossier makes the rounds among police top brass containing explosive claims that the Ramaphosa administration uses state machinery to target its political rivals.
According to the dossier drafted by the aggrieved senior Hawks officials, a plot was hatched to “deal with political opponents in the ANC and the EFF”.
Lebeya and Police Minister Bheki Cele allegedly devised the plan shortly after the latter’s appointment to the high-ranking position in 2018.
The jaw-dropping document, which we have seen, alleges that Cele and Lebeya drew up a list of several politicians and politically exposed individuals “that needed serious attention”.
The dossier alleges that Cele and Lebeya met at the former’s Durban home to discuss matters considered critical, chief among which being plans to investigate former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede, ex-ANC secretary general Ace Magashule and the EFF
leader Julius Malema.
This gave rise to the formation of the National Clean Audit Task Team, apparently manned “with a team of hand-picked investigators” to covertly push the predetermined agenda to “deal with political opponents”.
Lebeya laughed off the claims, saying no such meeting had taken place, adding that the Hawks investigated people based on allegations levelled against them, this without looking at the political parties and factions they belonged to.
“I do not know about the slates. I am not interested in that one. If anybody (insiders within the Hawks) is of the view that there is interference, the DPCI judge is there [to investigate] free of charge,” Lebeya said referring to the ombuds in the Hawks.
“If they say we are targeting people, who is it that we are protecting? There was no meeting where I discussed the issue of targeting individuals.”
The dossier claims Malema was not only targeted but was also under surveillance during the 2019 general election campaign season. His case of allegedly discharging a firearm in public at the 2018 EFF anniversary celebration in East London was viewed, apparently, as among possible reasons to nail him. The case also created a fertile ground for intensified scrutiny of his activities.
Lebeya said the Hawks were not fully involved in that case and therefore wrongly fingered.
“The DPCI is only helping the investigator whose experience needs assistance, which we do in many cases. We are not handling that case. There was no political pressure. I have no interest in the matter. I am not interested in these politics of theirs,” said Lebeya.
On allegations that the asbestos criminal case against Magashule was also politically motivated, Lebeya said this was unfair criticism. “On the issue of the case of Mr Magashule, I am not sure if there is no crime that is alleged to have been committed. If there is a crime that is alleged to have been committed, there are 17 people accused in that case. Must we have only dealt with 16 and left him out?”
Lebeya said the Hawks’ investigations are based on evidence at their disposal from witnesses, and they left everything at the table of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to decide whether to prosecute or not.
“So, the NPA, which exercises its discretion, decided to arraign certain people; it is not only him (Magashule) but there are others as well. If we charged every other person and left him, what were they going to say? People would then turn around and say, you are protecting politicians.”
The same principle applied to Gumede’s criminal case that had her in tears last year following many postponements. The Hawks, Lebeya said, mainly investigate cases of organised crime, which involve multiple suspects, and such cases cannot be watertight without looking at everyone allegedly involved.
“She (Gumede) is not the only one; there is a long list of suspects in that case. I am not targeting people; there is no person on any list to be targeted. There is no list of people to be targeted; there are crimes that would have been committed and certain people whose names we would come across when we investigated,” said Lebeya.
Gumede is in court with 21 co-accused facing fraud, theft, money laundering, and racketeering charges concerning corruption at the eThekwini solid waste department.
On former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko and his family’s botched case that was thrown out of court in November last year, Lebeya said that the investigation was handled by the Independent Directorate (ID), which took over the investigation from the Hawks.
Said Lebeya: “The matter was handled by the ID, but in any event, we were just going to continue to investigate, and if the NPA prosecutor decided to prosecute as they did, we shall have secured his attendance in court. Not because we discriminate against him, but because we are looking at the crime and the person alleged to have committed that crime. And in this one, it would appear that he is mentioned to be the one.”
In all its investigations, said Lebeya, the Hawks are never out to nail anyone as they hand over the case files to the NPA, which decides whether to go to court or not. “For us, we do not discriminate. We look at the crime, not the position you hold. We do not have a list of
factions. We are apolitical, so I do not think these allegations hold water.”
In a short response, Cele said these were operational matters, and that he was not empowered to comment on these as a political principal.