Embattled police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane. File picture: Masi Losi/ANA Pictures

Johannesburg - He may have been ousted as acting police commissioner, but on Friday embattled top cop Khomotso Phahlane experienced his first victory in months when he was awarded R350 000 in damages by the high court in Joburg.

After a four-year battle, he succeeded in his defamation case against police union Popcru, its secretary Steve Matsamela, and three police officer whistle-blowers.

They claimed he had run a corrupt SAPS Silverton forensic science laboratory before he became commissioner.

The five respondents have been ordered to pay Phahlane a total of R350 000 in damages (with interest of 15.5% from June 30) and to publish a written retraction of the claims to be issued at a press conference before the end of August.

In September 2012, the union released a lengthy, detailed statement to the media claiming that the police forensic laboratory was a den of corruption headed by Phahlane. The allegations included sabotage of services, concealing and doctoring of crime statistics, theft of drugs to the value of R500 million, irregular and nepotistic appointments, and failing to address sexual harassment.

Even more damning, Matsemela claimed that Phahlane had lied to a parliamentary portfolio committee about the number of cases in the laboratory backlog.

The union was also adamant that a R46 million DNA machine was “irregularly decommissioned” with the parts sold on the cheap.

Popcru also insisted the whistle-blowers were victimised and intimidated at their respective disciplinary hearings.

But in his judgment on Friday, Judge Ramarumo Monama attacked the credibility of the three officers, who during proceedings denied being whistle-blowers.

“They avoided the relevant questions. They were selective in providing the e-mails which implicated them. They did not impress me,” he said.

“The defamatory statement was widely circulated by the mainstream newspapers and electronic media The plaintiff (Phahlane) is depicted as a liar who misled Parliament, a nepotistic person and a person who can kill, abduct and harm other people.”

Judge Monama said Phahlane had told the court how the statement was traumatic for himself and his family and had limited their social movements.

While Phahlane had initially sued for R500 million, Judge Monama used previous settlements as a basis for why he only awarded R350 000.

Richard Mamabolo, Popcru spokesperson, said the union was still examining the judgment, and would announce whether it would appeal next week.

Meanwhile, Phahlane remains under investigation by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

Saturday Star