I was blocked by a ‘blue curtain’ at Ipid, says McBride
Ex-directorate boss recalls dodgy goings-on and ‘rampant abuse’ at Crime Intelligence
Former Independent Police Investigative Directorate boss Robert McBride used his first day at the state capture inquiry to take direct aim at the police and its ministry, talking about the hurdles he encountered during his tenure.
What has infamously become known as the Zimbabwean rendition saga took centre stage when McBride took the stand for the first time on Thursday after two months of delays.
The case marked McBride’s first battle with political forces within the police when he arrived at Ipid in March 2014, and would eventually result in his wrongful suspension a year later.
The case was widely seen as a political manoeuvre to have former Hawks boss Anwa Dramat and his Gauteng commander, Shadrack Sibiya, removed from their respective offices by the police minister at the time, Nathi Nhleko.
The pair stood accused of planning and executing an operation in 2010 that led to the illegal repatriation of five Zimbabweans wanted by the police in their country for the murder of a senior officer. An Ipid investigation, conducted before McBride’s arrival, recommended that the pair be prosecuted criminally on charges of kidnapping and defeating the ends of justice.
McBride said that when he arrived at Ipid, taking over from acting director Koekie Mbeki, he requested an update on all high-profile cases the institution was working on. He was briefed on this case by then acting national head of investigations, Matthews Sesoko, and Innocent Khuba, who was the provincial head of Ipid in Limpopo.
He learnt that the case docket on Dramat and Sibiya had been prepared by Crime Intelligence and handed to Khuba with the instruction to continue working with the intelligence officers throughout the investigation.
“I was under the impression that the investigation’s integrity had been compromised,” McBride told the commission.
He requested a full review of the case, and new evidence, in the form of an analysis of cellphone records, showed that Sibiya, in contrast to what three Crime Intelligence (CI) officers had previously stated, was not near any of the crime scenes as initially alleged.
“Dramat’s association was that he was informed by a CI officer who was at the border that Zimbabwe officials want to see him because they are looking for suspects. He also congratulated officers for the arrest of the Zimbabweans. He also was among those who received automated bulk SMSes indicating successes,” McBride said.
“After I was informed that Sibiya could not be placed at any of the scenes, it means that the three witnesses from CI placing Sibiya on three different scenes cannot reasonably be true and it just made me even more suspicious.”
After the review, Ipid drafted a second report which recommended that no prosecution be levelled against Dramat or Sibiya because there was a lack of evidence.
He told the commission that the report “effectively exonerated” them.
But months later, after Nhleko was appointed, the minister requested that the entire docket on the rendition saga, along with all the exhibits in the case, be handed over. Days after McBride complied, Dramat was suspended based on the recommendations, it seemed, of the initial report prepared by Ipid before McBride’s appointment.
Nhleko went a step further, suspending McBride in March 2015 on allegations that he had altered the initial report to clear Dramat and Sibiya. McBride successfully battled Nhleko’s decision in the courts, effectively winning his reinstatement.
Since then, his trouble has to a large degree been with bureaucracy, specifically around the declassification of information Ipid needs to pursue its investigations into corruption.
He told the commission there was a “blue curtain” around the police’s Crime Intelligence unit.
“Any request for information from CI, except for a brief period, is generally met with resistance, and very often CI will resort to the classification of documents ... This issue will bedevil future investigations,” he said.
“There is actually what we call in Ipid a blue curtain ... More often than not, even before my appointment to Ipid, there’s a history of cases where’s there’s been rampant abuse and a sense of impunity in the exercise of the usage of the secret service account of CI, and that also goes towards the classification.”
The secret service account McBrides referred to is a special fund within the police used to pay informants and finance special operations.
As his testimony continues, McBride is expected to detail how a “silent coup” in the state resulted in the deliberate weakening of anti-corruption entities.
“My belief is that there was an attack on anti-corruption institutions and that my suspension (by Nhleko in 2015) was part of that process to take control of independent anti-corruption bodies and remove their heads by suspension, spurious disciplinaries, and then to supplant them with compliant people who would not carry out their tasks diligently,” he told the commission while previewing his evidence to come.
“A few years ago, I came to the conclusion and expressed myself publicly, but I had also engaged with other affected persons from other organisations. The statement I made is that it (the weakening of anti-corruption entities) is to cover up crimes committed before, crimes being committed in the present, and crimes expected to take place in the future.
His testimony continues on Friday.