19 July 2024 | 08:06 AM

Graft ‘unchecked’ without Scorpions

Key Takeaways

There has been a significant drop in new corruption cases by the police since the Scorpions were closed down, according to a report from the influential Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The OECD this week slammed South Africa’s corruption-fighting efforts, expressing concern about the ability of the Hawks to take over the Scorpions’ functions.

The Scorpions were closed down early last year after the ANC decided at its December 2007 national conference in Polokwane that members of the elite unite should be incorporated into the South African Police Service.

On Monday the OECD released its report on South Africa’s ability to curb corruption, concluding that the country should improve on its investigation and prosecution of bribery in international business deals.

In July last year the Hawks, a police unit that replaced the Scorpions, was launched and 288 cases were handed over for finalisation.

In the past 12 months the Hawks unit — effectively an amalgamation of the police’s organised crime and commercial branches — has focused more on violent and drug-related crimes than on corruption.

The unit has been quiet about high-profile corruption cases transferred to it from the Scorpions, including the arms-deal probe.

According to the OECD’s report, the organisation was assured by South Africa that no investigations had been dropped when the Scorpions unit was disbanded and that the Hawks unit was equipped to deal with the outstanding cases.

But the organisation expressed concern about cooperation between investigators and prosecutors now that they are no longer based in the same unit.

The Scorpions’ “troika” model of investigation, in which investigators, prosecutors and analysts worked together on cases, won international praise but it was done away with when the unit was disbanded.

The Scorpions’ biggest critics, including the ANC, disgraced former police boss Jackie Selebi and Communications Minister Siphiwe Nyanda, argued that that method of investigation was problematic and prosecutors should at all times be acting independently when going to court.

Standard international practice

But the OECD’s report confirms that a model in which prosecutors are involved in complex graft investigations from the outset is standard international practice.

“The [OECD’s] lead examiners … remain concerned about the level of interaction between investigators and prosecutors and the need for oversight, and that the cooperation demonstrated between such personnel, such as it existed under the DSO [the Scorpions], has been lost with the restructuring of law enforcement. This issue should continue to be monitored,” the report reads.

According to it, South Africa is investigating only four cases of alleged bribery involving local officials and foreign companies. It “remains concerned” about the resources dedicated by South Africa to fighting foreign bribery and the level of skills available in the police and national prosecuting authority (NPA).

Ironically, the NPA’s specialised commercial crimes unit, which is specifically tasked with dealing with complex matters of bribery and fraud, impressed the OECD.

Earlier this year Menzi Simelane, the NPA boss, tried to disband the unit, but he was stopped by Jeff Radebe, the justice minister, after a public outcry.

The report further criticises the police for not following up on media reports about alleged bribery.

Although police crime intelligence monitors media reports, “allegations of foreign bribery have not served as a basis for opening an investigation … the [OECD] is concerned that despite the existence of such publicly avail-able allegations concerning foreign bribery cases … neither the SAPS nor the NPA took the initiative to look into these allegations at an earlier stage”.

The OECD also criticises South Africa for its lax response to international requests for mutual legal assistance and suggests that safeguards to ensure the independence of investigative and prosecutorial powers should be strengthened.

Simelane came under fire when he was justice director general for deflecting requests by German prosecutors for assistance in their investigation of the arms deal.

This article was produced by amaBhungane, investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a nonprofit initiative to enhance capacity for investigative journalism in the public interest. www.amabhungane.co.za.

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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