18 April 2024 | 12:04 PM

NPA and Magistrates Commission asked to probe KZN magistrate’s murky immersion in spying and politics.

Key Takeaways

 

  • The Magistrates Commission is looking into complaints against controversial Pietermaritzburg magistrate Ashin Singh.
  • The NPA Investigating Directorate has also been asked to probe allegations that potentially implicate Singh.
  • Singh boasts close ties to crime intelligence and to former president Jacob Zuma and his family.

Controversial magistrate Ashin Singh’s charmed life of dabbling in spying, provocation and politics while simultaneously occupying high magisterial office may be coming to an end.

Singh, who describes himself as a Senior Magistrate attached to the Judicial Quality Assurance Division, is known for his combative style and inflammatory comments on social media.

He has been at the centre of a host of public spats but is now accused of perjuring himself to protect SAPS Crime Intelligence boss Major General Deena Moodley, who is reportedly the subject of disciplinary processes.

In essence Singh provided alibis – which are now under suspicion – to legitimise Moodley’s use of secret intelligence funds.

Singh is the convenor of an organisation called SAMREM (the South African Minority Rights Equality Movement) and documents seen by AmaBhungane suggest SAMREM received at least R250 000 from Crime Intelligence coffers.

He also claims he assisted with a crime intelligence investigation into the “fees must fall” movement.

Singh’s connections with crime intelligence and Moodley raise concerns about their potential to pose conflicts of interest – or worse – for his role in the administration of justice.

On top of that, reports suggest Singh played a role in the events leading to the ousting of former SARS commissioner Oupa Magashula, regarded by some as one of the first dominoes to fall to clear a path for state capture.

Magashula resigned after an embarrassing recording of his conversation with a young woman was leaked to the media, allegedly by crime intelligence. His departure paved the way for the appointment of Tom Moyane, a deployee of Jacob Zuma accused of dismantling the revenue service’s investigative capabilities.  

A key sequence of events involving Singh’s questionable double role as magistrate and part-time spy were exposed following wider investigations into the alleged abuse crime intelligence covert funds.

The investigations led to a disciplinary probe of Moodley, the one-time CI boss in KZN, who is now the national head of intelligence collection  – which saw Singh draw up an affidavit to support Moodley’s explanation of the covert spending under suspicion.

Moodley was reportedly suspended for two months without pay in November last year for failing to attend a hearing amid what was described as a probe into allegations of gross misconduct relating to claims from the covert account.

SAPS national spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe told amaBhungane, “The General was previously suspended for failing to appear before a disciplinary tribunal on the said matter. This matter is ongoing, internal departmental processes are currently underway and we therefore would not want to divulge and discuss this matter in the public domain.”

Moodley declined to comment for this article.

When we posed questions, Singh first asked us for a copy of his own affidavit.

For source protection reasons we sent him a copy of the full text, not the original document which had identifying markings. He replied, “BUT where is my signature in this document???? I obv[iously] can’t recall from 2017??.”

An improbable spy

In the affidavit seen by amaBhungane Singh boasted of his work for CI in December 2016 and January 2017 relating to a mystery informer named as “David”.

Singh stated he had been asked by an attorney acting for Moodley to depose to an affidavit “about my interactions with an individual known as David”.

By way of introduction Singh wrote, “At the onset it must be noted that I have a close relationship with officials that are attached to… Crime Intelligence. Over the years I have identified many dozens of informers for the unit. I find intelligence work to be intriguing and it stimulates me to be an active citizen in the fight against crime.

“I have been assisting [Warrant Officer X] with his investigation into the “fees must fall” threat that was ravaging our institutions of higher learning over the last two years or so. I even recruited a few of the suspects as sources of information for him that came before the Pietermaritzburg Magistrate Court for violent crimes; that were committed on the local campuses.”

By the time Singh drafted his affidavit in 2017, Moodley was under internal investigation, but the details of Singh’s involvement only emerged later.

In 2022 Singh’s name featured in a report prepared for the Zondo Commission on state capture, written by SAPS criminal intelligence Brigadier Tiyani Lincoln Hlungwani.

Hlungwani, a chartered accountant, blew the whistle on a host of irregularities in CI, most notably the R100 million purchase of cellphone surveillance equipment or “grabbers” during the 2017 ANC Nasrec conference.

Hlungwani has since been disciplined himself for allegedly being in possession of a state vehicle without permission. He maintains he is being targeted for refusing to finalise the illegal purchase of the grabbers at a hugely inflated price.

In his Zondo affidavit Hlungwani says he was appointed at CI to administer the secret services account after the disastrous era of disgraced Major General Solly Lazarus, sentenced to prison in 2020 for looting covert funds.

Moodley is mentioned frequently in Hlungwani’s report, which reveals the results of several internal investigations carried out into covert abuses.

Hlungwani states that after he carried out a thorough review of claim transactions he found that Moodley had used secret service account funds to book himself into hotels for private purposes.

He said a Colonel Odendaal was appointed to investigate the alleged abuse: “He found more than was initially thought, as a magistrate by the name of Mr Ashin Singh from Pietermaritzburg also submitted an affidavit to support General Moodley’s version, but these were found to be lies.

“Magistrate Singh has since been reported to the Magistrate’s Commission.

“What was really concerning was that the name of the then President, Mr Jacob Zuma, was used to try and justify this fraud. They claimed that someone was hired to assassinate the President.”

This takes us back to Singh’s 2017 affidavit in support of Moodley and his account of the mysterious “David”.

Singh declared, “I was approached in the middle part of 2016 by a well-spoken individual that wanted information on the arrested persons relating to how strong the case against them were etcetera. I did not divulge any sensitive information but gave him information that was already in the public domain. Over the weeks that followed the individual that I came to know as David would ‘bump’ into me outside Court or come past my office and we would chat about a whole host of topics including the fees must fall phenomenon.

“I realised by then that David was more than he appeared to be. In early December my relationship had advanced to the stage whereby I called him out on my suspicions. He then related to me that he was a “CIA” asset and that was being handled by the United States Embassy in Botswana. He mentioned that the President was being poisoned and also bombings in the country being planned against some Embassies and other serious matters that I do not want to commit to paper.”

Singh alleges that he then agreed to introduce David to General Moodley as a potential source, and his affidavit claims the meeting with David was then on and off many times during December 2016.

There follows an implausible account of various meetings between Moodley, Singh and “David” at various hotels where twice they were all constrained to stay over because David was so “entertaining and engaging” and they talked through the night.

Eventually, when Singh explained to “David” that he would have to fill in forms and register as an agent before being paid, he became “totally upset”, switched off his phone and there was no further contact.

Unsurprisingly these meetings coincided with the dates of expense claims for Moodley being probed by Crime Intelligence, which suspected that some of Moodley’s trips were private jaunts.

The investigation was attempting to establish if “David” was simply invented to justify spending funds meant for covert operations and whether Singh lied when he vouched for these being bona fide meetings.

An investigation report authored by Major-General KD Galawe in November 2020 seen by amaBhungane, says that cellphone data showed only the presence of Moodley and his colleague at one hotel in question – the Drakensberg Sun – while there was no evidence to place Singh there.

Singh and his alleged driver, Warrant Officer X, had supposedly used burner phones.

The other explanation provided was that Singh was at the Drakensberg Hotel because was due to act as an EFF “talent spotter” for potential sources during an EFF meeting there.

However, the report says there wasn’t an EFF conference at the hotel.

A similar finding is made in reference to Singh supposedly attending a January 2017 meeting at a Durban beachfront hotel with Moodley and others.

Again, the report says that while statements said Singh was supposed to be at the meeting, his cell phone data showed he wasn’t at the scene.

The report says: “When Singh was interviewed …he mentioned that he assisted CI with talent spotting and that he utilised a burner phone during that time. He could not provide the burner phone number or explain why he had a burner phone…cellphone data showed his phone was active around Pietermaritzburg [not Durban].”

According to Hlungwani’s Zondo report, “A criminal case has since also been opened and IPID is investigating the matter under CAS 53/5/2019, Silverton.”

When amaBhungane approached IPID, a spokesperson indicated the matter had been transferred to the Hawks. Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Thandi Mbambo confirmed the matter had been referred to the ID. 

NPA Investigative Directorate spokesperson Sindiwe Seboka said: “We cannot confirm or deny possible ongoing investigations.”

A minority front?

Documents seen by amaBhungane suggest that CI also paid money to the South African Minority Rights Equality Movement, of which Singh was the “convenor” and that Singh might have been the intended beneficiary.

Hlungwani says in his affidavit that whilst looking into Moodley, “a colleague came to my office to inform me that there was R100 000 in the form of a ‘recruitment fee’…” that was given to General Moodley for onward payment “to a person from SAMREM to infiltrate the African National Congress, EFF, Democratic Alliance, #fees must fall and other groupings”.

AmaBhungane has had sight of CI documents motivating payments to a SAMREM informer “with a law degree” who is elsewhere described as being the “secretary” of SAMREM.

The motivation describes the informer in glowing terms, saying that he interacts with “various political parties, interest groups including foreigners, informal settlements, community groups and media”.

Amabhungane has seen documents that motivate for R100 000 payment in September 2016 and then R150 000 four months later saying information can be “channeled” through SAMREM’s office.

The applications were approved by Moodley and another general.

The motivations suggest the target is a top-level source: “The informer has a good working relationship with the leaders of the ANC and is able to extract valuable information that can be utilised by this office.”

It says the informer “has access to the inner workings of the EFF in KZN and nationally” and has won the confidence of party leaders “on numerous occasions through cash donations in order to earn their trust”.

Further, the informer had infiltrated the Fees Must Fall student organisation after making donations for t-shirts, caps banners for the protest marches.

The informer also had links to Democratic Alliance leaders and interacted with “foreign leaders” residing in South Africa who could provide valuable information on criminal syndicates and information on state security crimes, including “Truck hijacking by Somali syndicates; drug dealing by Nigerians; money laundering by Pakistanis; radical Islamic recruitment; on Al-Shabab and human trafficking from Pakistan” and he was even “highly respected” in the criminal world.

“The office is in great need of the informer,” the CI colonel compiling the motivation concluded.

Among other detailed questions posed to Singh, amaBhungane asked, “What is your role in SAMREM and have you or SAMREM accepted any money from CI or General Moodley or anyone acting on his behalf?”

Singh said he had never seen Hlungwani’s affidavit but, “I’m told he withdrew the allegations.”

As far as amaBhungane was able to establish this is not so. In fact, three of Moodley’s subordinates faced disciplinary charges in 2020 in relation to some of the events and payments detailed by Hlungwani.

“Please go ahead with your article,” Singh wrote. “I reserve the right to respond…that way you are bound by your version which can’t change because of the evidence I have collected. Also, note that I have no authority to agree with your publication of legally privileged documents and defamatory allegations remain actionable if warranted.”

A State Capture target?

Singh’s involvement in intelligence operations (by his own account) or in perjury (if Hlungwani is to be believed) both represent a concern for his role in the administration of justice.

And his engagements have not merely been harmless peccadillos.

The Oupa Magashula saga is a case in point.

In 2013 a recording made in 2010 was leaked to City Press. It detailed a conversation in which Magashula appeared to offer a top SARS job to a young woman.

The leak resulted in an inquiry, prompting Magashula’s resignation.

In 2016 City Press reported that one of those involved in the leaking of the recording told City Press that crime intelligence operatives recorded Magashula and “leaked it to the media via a high-profile Pietermaritzburg magistrate”.

A source formerly close to Singh but now hostile to him told amaBhungane the allegation referred to Singh.

We put it to Singh that he was instrumental in peddling this story to the media.

He did not respond.

The Magistrate’s Commission confirmed having received a number of complaints against Singh, including a report from the aforementioned Colonel Odendaal to the effect that there was an investigation against Singh by the SAPS’ Crime Intelligence Directorate, which investigation was still pending.

“The Ethics Committee of the Magistrates Commission is in the process of consolidating all the complaints against Mr Singh. Thereafter, the Ethics Committee will discuss a way forward and the necessary steps that should be taken to address the complaints.”

Singh’s alleged tango with Crime Intelligence to ‘out’ Magashula raises questions about other politically charged interventions and whether he was acting as a cat’s paw for CI.

Singh’s role in SAMREM saw him fall out with activists in Pietermaritzburg, one of whom told AmaBhungane that Singh often boasted about his links to Zuma and crime intelligence.

On social media posts, Singh was pictured playing chess with Zuma and posing with Zuma’s son, Duduzane Zuma.

Singh’s public association with the Zuma cause goes back to 2007 when he failed in a bid to become an amicus curiae (friend of the court) when Zuma appeared before Judge Chris Nicholson on corruption charges related to the Arms Deal.

Singh alleged in court papers that unless State advocate Billy Downer SC was removed Zuma would not get a fair trial – the very same claim that Zuma has himself pursued ever since charges against him were reinstated in 2018.

Nicholson ruled against Singh’s bid, saying he was motivated by “ulterior purposes” in pursuing a long-standing feud between him and Downer.

The feud had its origins in 1999 when Singh was seconded to the Investigating Directorate for Organised Crime in KwaZulu-Natal (which later formed part of the Scorpions).

Singh was subsequently expelled, arrested, charged and prosecuted on 12 counts of defeating or obstructing the course of justice, unauthorised disclosure of information, making a false statement under oath and contravening sections of the Protection of Information Act and the Interception and Monitoring Prohibition Act.

In 2003 Singh won a permanent stay of prosecution when the trial magistrate ruled that evidence against him had been obtained illegally. He launched an unsuccessful private prosecution against Downer and a civil claim against the Department of Justice.

Judge Nicholson later refuted allegations of dishonesty against Downer imputed by Singh, finding there was “no blameworthiness at all” on the part of Downer and an amicus bid could not be linked to a “vendetta”.

Nicholson described the amicus application as “vexatious and an abuse of the process of the Court” and made a cost order against him. Singh reportedly later struck a deal with the justice department to avoid the costs order and dropped his claims against the department in return.

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