Former crime intelligence head Richard Mdluli may well go to jail for kidnapping, intimidation and assault – but his corruption case which was reinstated in 2015 has yet to see the inside of a courtroom. That will only happen in November.

In the Johannesburg High Court on Tuesday morning, Judge Ratha Mokgoatlheng handed down a prison sentence for Mdluli and his co-accused Mthembeni Mthunzi, a former police colleague. The pair has been sentenced to an effective five years in prison – three years for kidnapping, one year for assault, and one year for assault with intention to commit grievous bodily harm. The second sentence will run concurrently.

News reports indicate that Mdluli’s legal team has already begun its appeal.

The case relates to a love triangle that involved Mdluli’s former partner and another man in 1999, when Mdluli was head of Vosloorus police station. The pair assaulted Mdluli’s partner and her friend, and the man, Oupa Ramogibe, was shot and killed shortly after Mdluli allegedly threatened him, but the murder charge was withdrawn.

On 30 July 2019, Mdluli and Mthunzi were each convicted of four counts of intimidation, two counts of kidnapping and three counts of assault at the North Gauteng High Court. In March this year the bench heard arguments on the nature of an appropriate sentence. The state argued for imprisonment while Mdluli’s legal team insisted that correctional supervision would be appropriate.

The 60-year-old Mdluli stated during sentencing proceedings on Monday that he was too old and vulnerable to Covid-19 to be jailed. His plea for leniency went unheard. Mokgoatlheng had described the conduct of Mdluli and Mthunzi as an abuse of their powers as law enforcement officers.

Zuma protector, Zuma enabler

Mdluli was deeply involved in the long-running plan to protect former president Jacob Zuma from facing his day in court on corruption and racketeering charges. In fact, Zuma, who was facing the charges at the time of his election, might never have become president were it not for the crooked cop.

The former president appointed Mdluli as head of police crime intelligence in 2009, soon after he was elected.

Zuma himself will finally face trial for those 16 charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering, when he enters the Pietermaritzburg High Court on 8 December. Like Mdluli, he ducked and dived for years to prevent accountability and in 2020 alone he failed to show up for court once and managed to get two postponements.

The state first brought charges against Mdluli in 2011. They included murder, attempted murder, intimidation, kidnapping, assault, grievous bodily harm, conspiracy to commit murder and defeating and/or obstructing the course of justice – but were set aside in November 2012 by National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) special director Lawrence Mrwebi.

The other set of charges, including fraud, corruption and money-laundering, were brought in September 2011 and withdrawn in December of the same year. In 2015 the NPA reinstated those charges against Mdluli and his other co-accused, Colonel Heine Barnard, a senior financial official in the crime intelligence unit. That case will finally be heard in the Pretoria High Court in November.

In 2019 the Mokgoro Commission of Inquiry found Mrwebi not fit to hold office because of his unlawful conduct in handling high-profile criminal cases during his tenure with the NPA, one of which was the Mdluli case. President Cyril Ramaphosa removed Mrwebi and fellow NPA advocate Nomgcobo Jiba, who was a deputy director of public prosecutions, from office in November 2019.

Mdluli, meanwhile, was relieved of his duties in January 2018, after six years of suspension on full pay, at the taxpayer’s expense.