Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko and Independent Police Investigating Directorate head Robert McBride. Pictures: Masi Losi and Phill Magakoe/Independent Media
Johannesburg – South Africans have been treated to a gripping political soapie involving the country’s top police echelons.

The characters may be different but the script is the same.

The legal tussle is between acting national police commissioner Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), led by its executive head Robert McBride.

Ipid wants Phahlane charged for allegedly defeating the ends of justice and possible corruption relating to his multimillion-rand house, the purchase of several luxury vehicles and a R80000 sound system from a SAPS service provider.

But Phahlane believes Ipid is conniving with private investigator Paul O’Sullivan to try him in the court of public opinion.

Each side in the fray has formidable backers. On the one side are Phahlane’s backers led by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and Hawks head Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza.

Support for Ipid seems subdued, but it has drawn considerable amount of support from civil society groups and some sections of Parliament, especially in the ANC caucus.

The fight escalated last week when Phahlane filed an application with the high court in Pretoria seeking to interdict McBride and O’Sullivan from conducting a further probe against him.

Phahlane is adamant his acquisitions were above board. He argues Ipid had not notified him of the probe against him and McBride and O’Sullivan are threatening and harassing him and inciting others to do so. But Ipid disputes this, saying Phahlane is lying in claiming he wasn’t informed about the probe.

“We have documentary proof that not only was he informed about it, but his own signature is on the document asking his PA (personal assistant) to schedule a meeting regarding the case and that’s as early as June 2016,” McBride told Parliament this week.

Phahlane believes O’Sullivan should, in the first place, not be involved in the investigation of his affairs because he says he is foreigner and a spy.

Independent Media spoke to sources familiar with the investigation of Phahlane’s alleged dodgy dealings. They believe Ipid has a watertight case against him.

The sound system

According to a source, Ipid has “documentary proof or evidence that shows the company, Crime Check, paid Sounds Grade” for the music system. The source said Phahlane’s account of the acquisition was fraught with contradictions.

“All they (investigators) have is an email from him to his bank, which we don’t know if it was ever received by the bank. There’s no response from the bank and there’s nothing from anyone that acknowledges the instruction. If you want me to make up an email like that, I can. It doesn’t show it was delivered, nothing.”

The source added: “But I can tell you we have this document that says CrimeTech paid for this sound system and proof of payment. We got statements that show the people who installed it got instruction from CrimeTech.”

According to Ipid, Phahlane needs to answer how he managed to buy six vehicles, including four luxury cars, in a space of 18 months. These include:

January 2015: Mercedes-Benz E250 CDi costing R750 000. Balance on the car is R350000 by last month.

April 2015: VW Amarok costing R540 000. The balance of R150 000 by last month.

January 2016: Hilux Double cab (R405 000). No proof of finance.

February 2016: VW Polo (R250 000). Paid cash

August 2016: Land Rover Discovery (R1.07 million). Balance of R367 000 by last month.

October 2016: Range Rover Sport. No proof of finance yet.

The sources said it was questionable how Phahlane could have acquired these vehicle in such a short space of time.

“The interesting thing is that there was no payment on the Range Rover, which he purchased brand new. There’s also no instalment on the Hilux, which he claims is a donation.

“Who looks at another person in the street and says, ‘I will sponsor you with that kind of money'? There was no name of sponsor on the bakkie. If it’s a charity, the car will be branded. There’s nothing.”

The house

According to sources, Phahlame claims he paid about R2.4m for the property and he bought the land on which it is built for between R260000 and R300000.

“The developer who built that house says he was paid in bags of money every two weeks. Why would you pay a developer who is registered using bags of money?”

Ipid maintains Phahlane has a case to answer, according to sources. “We believe we have a prima facie case against him.

“That’s why we got a search warrant. To get a search warrant you must say here’s the evidence, the magistrate will look at it and consider it. They looked at the evidence and said, yes, there’s a basis.”

On the allegations O’Sullivan is a spy, the sources said: “Paul O’Sullivan may be an interesting character but when he comes to us (with information) and we find what he says is credible, must we say no (we can’t investigate)? We couldn’t prejudice Paul O’Sullivan.”

Phahlane has denied all the allegations and maintained that everything was above board

The saga took a dramatic turn last week when O’Sullivan was arrested on charges of fraud, extortion, attempted extortion, intimidation and impersonating an Ipid official.

He was later released on the same night.

The battle between Phahlane and Ipid is part of the power politics that saw the likes of Hawks bosses Anwa Dramat and General Shadrack Sibiya forced out of their positions, as the head of the Governance, Crime and Justice division at the Institute of Security Studies, Gareth Newham argues.

“It’s all part of the same problem, which is that there’s not a willingness by the president to appoint the best possible man or woman following the recommendations of the National Development Plan (NDP),” he said.

In June 2012, President Jacob Zuma appointed Riah Phiyega national police commissioner. Phahlane is relatively experienced and has done a relatively good job, according to Newham, but the allegations against him have cast a doubt on his suitability for the job.

“It’s all because the president doesn’t see the need to appointing honest, professional and independent police to do the job.

When contacted for comment, Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini said: “We are not commenting on an ongoing investigation.”

Sunday Indepedent