Johannesburg - The Special Investigating Unit (SIU), whose mandate is to provide professional forensic investigations into maladministration and corruption, has been infiltrated by rogue and unvetted officials, some of whom leak and sell sensitive information to suspects the unit is investigating.

Sources who spoke to The Sunday Independent on condition of anonymity say corruption is so widespread within the unit, which is tasked with probing high-profile cases as determined by the president through proclamations, that several disgruntled SIU officials, many of who are now being victimised for speaking out against graft, have sought the intervention of President Jacob Zuma.

Ironically, the SIU’s mandate includes “conducting forensic investigations and/or facilitating civil proceedings in a professional manner and maintaining and ensuring proper conduct among members of the SIU”.

These members, who claim the SIU has now become a threat to the state, have also written letters to Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu, the standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) and Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services asking these institutions to investigate corrupt SIU officials whom they claim enjoy the protection of the unit’s head, Advocate Lekhoa Mothibi.

The Sunday Independent can also reveal that one senior SIU staffer allegedly sold sensitive information to an official at Msunduzi Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal who is the subject of an investigation by the unit.

Last year, Zuma ordered the SIU to probe serious maladministration, improper and unlawful conduct by councillors and officials of the municipality in Pietermaritzburg.

The Sunday Independent has been reliably informed that this investigation is now in jeopardy after a high-ranking SIU official sold classified information for about R1 million to an implicated Msunduzi Municipality official.

No disciplinary steps were taken against the SIU official who is alleged to have given her seniors expensive gifts.

The matter was referred to the Directorate for Priority Crimes Investigations (Hawks) who put surveillance in place to monitor the SIU official. An affidavit was obtained from an SIU staff member who implicated a colleague.

In their letter to the SIU, the Hawks confirmed the SIU staffer was caught in surveillance in a meeting with a man known to investigators.

The Hawks said they encountered a problem after “a programme agent refused to testify due to the sensitivity of his/her assignment other than this”.

They recommended the matter be dealt with internally by the SIU, which they urged to take the necessary action against the implicated staff member.

The Sunday Independent has also learnt from impeccable sources that one SIU whistle-blower, who wrote to the Office of the Auditor-General spilling the beans on Mothibi and other SIU senior officials, is now facing disciplinary action after an Auditor-General staffer erroneously sent a letter privately addressed to the whistle-blower to another SIU official who then sent it to senior SIU officials.

Questions were sent to Makwetu’s spokesperson, Africa Boso, who acknowledged receipt thereof but failed to respond.

Disgruntled members of the SIU who spoke to The Sunday Independent accused Mothibi of not only turning a blind eye to corruption but of appointing friends to senior positions without following proper procedures.

They cited the position of chief financial officer, which they claimed Mothibi gave to a friend, André Gerhardt, with whom he had worked at Medscheme before being appointed as SIU head.

They also accused Mothibi of abusing SIU funds to buy protection from the National Health, Education and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu). They claim Mothibi showered shop stewards with cash and paid for their travel, accommodation and subsistence allowance while they were doing work for the union in exchange for their protection.

Nehawu did not respond to e-mailed questions.

In her response, Mothibi’s spokesperson, Nazreen Pandor, said they were aware of allegations that classified information was being sold to parties being investigated by the SIU. Asked why no decisive action had been taken against the suspect, Pandor blamed the Hawks for failing to provide the SIU with the requisite information.

“Despite the SIU requesting the Hawks to provide us with information, the SIU has not been provided with any information to enable an internal investigation.”

Regarding spending that was in violation of Treasury regulations and allegations of a dodgy relationship between Mothibi and Nehawu, Pandor said: “In terms of our Recognition Agreement, if the recognised trade union members travel for union business, the union carries all costs. If, however, they are invited for SIU business, then the SIU carries the cost.”

Responding to allegations that Mothibi had given the post of SIU chief financial officer to a friend, Pandor said: “Even though the head of the SIU has worked at the same institution with Gerhardt before, there is no personal relationship between the head of the unit and the CFO.”

She added: “In accordance with SIU policy and practice, the SIU Internal Integrity Unit has screened the CFO before his appointment and not the State Security Agency (SSA) as this is not a requirement for fixed-term contract employees and it is also not a requirement for the appointment of permanent employees.”

Pandor said they were aware some SIU employees had objected to being vetted by the SSA. “The history to this objection is that employees are of the view that vetting is not in accordance with their terms and conditions as stipulated in their employment contracts.

“The SIU is of the view that all its investigators should be vetted as they are exposed to classified information during their investigations.

“This is a matter arising at the National Consultative Forum and the SIU will follow up on this issue.”

Zuma’s spokesperson, Bongani Ngqulunga, confirmed the Presidency had received a letter from disgruntled SIU members.

“The matter has been referred to the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services,” Ngqulunga said.

Spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said: “No such letter has been received yet by Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services.”

The Sunday Independent