FLASHBACK: Now, Hawks take aim at Gerrie Nel
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* This story first published in March 2016 has been republished on IOL's front page today due to the unusually high amount of traffic it is generating on the site after Nel's announcement on Tuesday that he would lead a new private prosecuting unit set up by lobby group AfriForum.
Johannesburg – Controversial Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza is gunning for top prosecutor Gerrie Nel, who is largely credited with ensuring Oscar Pistorius was convicted for Reeva Steenkamp’s murder.
Ntlemeza is understood to be implicating Nel in the controversy over the alleged “rogue” unit at the South African Revenue Service.
The Sunday Independent has been told that the Hawks have launched a probe into Nel for possible contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.
It is alleged he approved a payment of R1.5 million to a member of the unit to install spying equipment in the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) offices.
Nel scored a major victory when the Constitutional Court agreed this week with his arguments that Pistorius was guilty of murder.
He now has to mount a defence against possible charges that he contravened the Public Finance Management Act.
The name of the Sars unit member is known to The Sunday Independent.
Another top former Scorpions investigator, Andrew Leask, is also under investigation for the same offence.
NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said: “Kindly be advised that we do not comment on investigative issues. Kindly contact the Hawks in that regard.”
Investigators have discovered that the R1.5m, approved by Nel and Leask, was not paid to the unit member’s account but into his wife’s Absa account.
A senior government official, who wanted to remain anonymous, questioned how a member of Sars obtained work from the NPA.
“That is a conflict of interest,” said an official.
The highly sophisticated spying equipment, which was meant to ensure there was no breach of security in the offices of Scorpions investigators as well as the then-national director of public prosecutions (NDPP), Vusi Pikoli.
They were dealing at the time with sensitive investigations against then-police commissioner Jackie Selebi and convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti.
Pikoli this week said he did “authorise the upgrade of security in my office and the offices of the investigators”.
He said it had been decided to implement counter-measures because of the sensitivity of the case they were dealing with.
Pikoli said the CCTV cameras and other equipment were installed to pick up if there was any breach of security.
Asked if he was aware that Nel and Leask had possibly contravened the Public Finance Management Act, Pikoli said: “I was not involved in the procurement processes.
“I did not think it was necessary,” he added.
It has emerged in the letter addressed to the Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, from Ntlemeza, that the equipment was used for illegal bugging of NPA offices and to monitor meetings of Scorpions investigators involved in Operation “Bad Guys”.
According to Ntlemeza’s letter, one of the unit members used former president Thabo Mbeki’s name to compel members of the unit to do as he wanted them to.
The document alleges that this member, “Skollie”, insisted that meetings to monitor the Scorpions should be bugged because Mbeki wanted to know what the Scorpions had against Selebi and whether there was any other high-ranking official that would be arrested.
The interception and monitoring was carried out under project code “Sunday Evenings”.
The Hawks are also investigating the Sars unit, formed in 2007 while Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was head of the service.
Last month, the Hawks sent Gordhan 27 questions with a deadline. He missed the deadline as he was preparing his Budget speech.
The questions relate to the time Gordhan spent as commissioner at Sars and his alleged involvement in the controversial High Risk Investigative Unit, which also stands accused of illegal spying tactics.
The new revelation comes as the tensions between Gordhan and Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane have become a national talking point. Moyane failed to attend the Budget speech.
This week, the cabinet released a statement saying that President Jacob Zuma was dealing personally with the tensions between Gordhan and Moyane.
Ntlemeza said: “It further appears that procurement processes for the purchasing and installation of electronic equipment at Directorate of Special Operations (Scorpions) offices were flawed or not followed.”
Ntlemeza pointed out that: “What makes it more suspicious is that (the Scorpions) decided to choose Sars unit members to do the installation instead of an accredited service-provider.”
He said three companies, Protech Security Consultants, Graphic Image Technologies and African Communication System, had been recommended as having the required highly sophisticated equipment.
He said investigations into how this project was managed were continuing.
Repeated attempts were made to contact Nel for comment, but they proved fruitless.