File photo

Cape Town - A magistrate has acquitted a top Knysna detective of theft - and made damning statements about five police officers who admitted to lying in court and committing fraud in their evidence against their colleague.

Knysna police officers accused Johann Burmeister, 53, of stealing a laptop computer from the store in the police station where recovered stolen property was kept.

Burmeister, with a police career of 32 years, has worked on several high-profile cases.

He spearheaded the probe that led to the biggest cocaine bust in the region in 2010 and investigated the severe assault on Alix Carmichele, arresting the culprit - a man on bail for violent crimes - the following day.

In the theft case against Burmeister, the prosecutor, T Thibedi, told the Knysna Magistrate’s Court “it is quite clear that there are a lot of unpalatable goings-on” at the town’s police station.

Thibedi agreed with the defence that the only decision “any reasonable court” could make was to acquit the detective.

Burmeister was acquitted on July 24.

He was fired in April after an internal police inquiry found him guilty of theft. He has appealed against this decision, but has not been reinstated as a police officer.

The chain of events began in November.

Burmeister had come on duty and been handed a case involving possession of stolen property - a laptop, owner unknown.

He took the laptop to a computer shop, where technicians gained access to the contents, enabling Burmeister to contact the owner. After taking a statement from the owner, he returned the laptop to the police exhibits store, where he gave it to the sergeant in charge of exhibits, Carmen Coetzee, who signed for it.

On February 26, as he was about to go off duty, Burmeister was handcuffed by colleagues and taken to the police cells in Plettenberg Bay, where he was kept for two days. He was taken to court in the back of a police van, accused of stealing the laptop and released on bail.

In the three-day court case, six Knysna police officers testified against Burmeister. With the exception of Captain Michelle Lesch, the officers admitted in court that they had lied in their testimony against Burmeister, or in their statements or had committed fraud. They were Coetzee, Xolile Gogwana, Abraham Coetzer, Christopher Appels and Maurice Grootboom.

Coetzee conceded in court that she had instigated the criminal case against Burmeister.

Coetzee, the “key witness”, admitted to lying twice in the first five minutes of her cross-examination.

She had testified that she had not received the laptop back from Burmeister. Cross-examining her, Eduard Bruwer, for Burmeister, put it to her that “your evidence that you had never received (the laptop) and that Burmeister was still in possession of it, was a lie”.

She admitted this was a lie. She had also lied about a gold bangle, worth R16 000, that had disappeared from the police exhibit store.

Coetzer admitted in court that he had glued a piece of paper over a page of a police record book to conceal evidence about the gold bangle.

In acquitting Burmeister, magistrate Derek Torlage could only agree with the defence that there was no evidence against Burmeister.

Asked if Burmeister would be reinstated and perjury charges brought, southern Cape police spokesman Malcom Pojie said the SAPS dealt with disciplinary and criminal cases separately. “Court inscriptions regarding the magistrate’s findings and subsequent acquittal need to be scrutinised before any actions are instituted.”

Cape Times