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On 22 November prominent law enforcement agencies met with Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa).

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU), the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI or Hawks), and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) briefed the committee on the ongoing collaboration on cases involving state-owned enterprises (SOEs) referred to them by the SIU. The committee also received updates on implementation of the Zondo commission’s recommendations on investigations into state capture.

Among the SOEs under discussion were Eskom, Denel, Transnet, and South African Airways (SAA).

The committee raised various concerns including delays in completing investigations, bringing suspects to court, and securing convictions, resource and capacity limitations in law enforcement agencies, and the classification and prioritisation of certain high-profile cases.

Hawks investigate cases worth millions

Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya, national head of the Hawks, was accompanied by representatives from the Serious Commercial Crime unit.

The Hawks’ workload was currently at 19 622 cases, said Lebeya, while 11 698 accused persons were on the courts’ rolls.

These cases were complex, said Lebeya in response to a question from Scopa chairperson Sakhumzi Somyo regarding the time it took to finalise a case, and this sometimes caused delays. “A lot of work is being done, but the volume of work might be more than officials can handle at a time.”

For example, he added, with the VBS matter, there are 29 accused persons before the courts, with more than 1 000 statements filed. With the Durban solid waste case, it may seem like one matter but there are more than 2 786 counts within that matter, “so it means that in fact you have got more than 2 000 cases in one.”

Meanwhile, the Hawks were are busy with 19 Eskom cases on the court roll, with 43 suspects arrested or accused. Some cases relate to false billing or illegal connections while others involve theft of copper cables or diesel. There were 11 cases under investigation, but none had been finalised. One case had been provisionally withdrawn from court and was currently under investigation.

The estimated amounts involved in these cases, in total, is around R161.5-million.

One case involving SAA has a value of R6.2 million, while one involving Denel has a value of R3-million. The SAA case is awaiting a decision from the NPA.

Meanwhile, there are three Transnet cases under investigation at the moment.

Emanating from SIU referrals specifically, the organisation had 45 cases or enquiries on hand, seven court cases, four pending NPA decisions, 33 cases under investigation, one provisionally withdrawn, and one finalised case. These are not the only SIU referrals to the Hawks, but for those referrals not mentioned it had been found that there were investigations already under way.

State capture matters in the Hawks’ sights

The Hawks’ Brigadier John Matroos told the committee that in November 2022 a team of 20 experienced investigators, led by senior officers from the operational investigation component, was assembled to prioritise the investigations emanating from the state capture commission.

“The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation is continuously recruiting personnel to increase the capacity.”

The Hawks currently have 47 state capture matters under way, addressing 80 of the Zondo commission’s investigation recommendations. There are five court cases, two awaiting a decision from the NPA, 10 cases under investigation, and 30 inquiries under investigation.

Two cases have been finalised, and in total the organisation has arrested 23 natural persons and 10 juristic persons in connection with these cases.

“The number of statements obtained is 2 774.”

The Hawks are also collaborating with the South African Revenue Service and the NPA through the previously mentioned task force, whose key mandate was prioritising state capture cases, focusing on operational case prioritisation, and enhancing coordination.

SIU investigations into state capture

The SIU’s chief national investigations officer, Adv Leonard Lekgetho, told the committee that the organisation was busy with cases relating to Transnet, SAA, Eskom, Denel, the Public Rail Association of South Africa (Prasa), Alexkor, and the Free State Department of Human Settlements.

The latter investigation, into the infamous asbestos replacement project in the province, is finalised. Outcomes included disciplinary referrals, NPA referrals, and civil action.

All SIU investigations are initiated by a relevant presidential proclamation.

Many of the current batch relate to irregularities in procurement, such as Transnet’s controversial acquisition of the 1 064 locomotives, involving four contracts with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) valued at R54-billion. The four OEMs are Bombardier (now known as Alron), General Electric (now known as Webtech SA Technology), China South Rail, and China North Rail Rolling Stock (together known as CRRC after a merger). In this specific case, said Lekgetho, outcomes include civil recoveries, civil litigation, and disciplinary referrals.

There are seven SIU investigations on the go into SAA, Lekgetho said, including the Swissport, aircraft components, and Airbus acquisition tenders.

The SIU is busy with six Eskom investigations, including Tegeta Brakfontein, Tegeta Optimum, and Tegeta Koornfontein. Planned outcomes include civil litigation and director delinquency proceedings.

Prasa, meanwhile, is the subject of three investigations, involving two into the procurement of Royal Security CC, and one into the procurement of forensic investigation services.

Collaboration vital to prosecution success

The NPA’s deputy national director of public prosecutions, Adv Rodney de Kock, said the strengthening of collaboration and co-ordination was “critical to tackling the complex work” of the various agencies.

“We value the partnerships that we forged with other critical law enforcement agencies. We work in a co-ordinated way as best we can.”

The NPA had done much to strengthen the state’s ability to do complex forensic and corruption investigations, which was traditionally seen as a weakness, added De Kock.

“A lot has been done to strengthen the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) to assist law enforcement in some of the forensic work involving the illicit flow of funds. We are working closely with the FIC on many of the projects that we are presenting here.”

Investigative Directorate (ID) head Adv Andrea Johnson said there were five matters under investigation.

These were Transnet Nedbank loan swaps, whose contract value is not yet quantified; Eskom and Transnet SAP contracts to the value of R558-million and R545-million respectively; Transnet Neotel contracts valued at R834-million; Transnet Cutting Edge contracts valued at R84-million; and Denel, valued at R229-million. These matters deal variously with corruption, organised crime, and procurement irregularities, in the form of contraventions of the Public Finance Management Act and the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

Matters before court, referred by the SIU, were the Eskom/ABB/Impulse contracts valued at R1.58-billion, the Eskom/ABB gratification case valued at R549-million, and the Eskom Kusile Phola build project valued at R1.5-billion.

Many of these cases have been postponed, said Johnson, which is a problem because there are no dedicated court rolls or dedicated court lanes for the expeditious hearings of state capture matters.

In terms of future investigations, the ID is looking at 122 recommendations out of the state capture commission – 32 are matters where specific recommendations were and in 12 there were no specific recommendations made.

“Given that the mandate of the ID is to look at state capture we were wary not to ignore matters which were referred to in the state capture commission but, I would assume, that because the commission ran out of time, may not necessarily have made findings.”