File picture.

Pretoria - Three people, aged between 33 and 51, have been arrested for impersonating members of the South African Police Service's elite Hawks unit, an official said on Thursday.

"The suspects, one of whom has been posing as a Major General, were arrested by the Serious Corruption Investigation unit at a hideout in Midrand, just outside Johannesburg, on Wednesday," said Hawks spokesperson, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi.

"Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation [popularly known as the Hawks] members recently received a complaint from a prominent businessman about a person pretending to be a Hawks Major General, soliciting money to have a case that he is allegedly implicated, disappear." 

Mulaudzi said an investigation was subsequently launched into the allegations, and it emerged immediately that there was no such Major General within the Hawks' rank and file.

On Wednesday afternoon, the three suspects were lured into a police trap and arrested.  Various items were seized pending further investigations.

The National Head of the DPCI, Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya, described the arrests as a breakthrough in policing, adding that reports of Hawks officers impersonators had been muddying the image of the police for some time.

“We have been receiving numerous complaints of scams by so-called Hawks members targeting high profile people in the country both in government and in private business demanding cash to throw away cases," said Lebeya.

“We believe there is a syndicate that is using false Hawks credentials to rob and scam people and investigations are underway to locate the masterminds behind this criminal conduct. The DPCI will not call you and demand money.  We urge people to report any potential scam attempts to their local police stations where it can be shared with law enforcement,” said Lebeya.

The trio is expected to appear in the Midrand Magistrate’s Court on Friday, facing charges of corruption and extortion.  

African News Agency (ANA)