Amil Umraw Correspondent
Former South Africa’s Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) boss Robert McBride has described the controversial “Zimbabwean rendition” case — alleging that South African security services were involved in illegal prisoner exchange with Zimbabwe — which led to the suspension of senior Hawks members as a “conspiracy from start to finish”.
This was the first high-profile case McBride, who was testifying before the state capture inquiry on Thursday, was confronted with when he was appointed in March 2014.
The case was widely seen as a political manoeuvre to have former Hawks boss Anwa Dramat and his Gauteng commander Shadrack Sibiya removed.
It was the same case that resulted in former police minister Nathi Nhleko wrongfully suspending McBride a year after his appointment.
Sibiya and Dramat both stood accused of planning and executing an operation in 2010 that led to the illegal repatriation of five Zimbabweans wanted by that country’s police for the murder of a senior officer.
An investigation by Ipid, conducted before McBride’s arrival, recommended that the pair be prosecuted criminally on charges of kidnapping and defeating the ends of justice.
Former head of the Independent Police Investigation Directorate (Ipid) took to the state capture inquiry on April 11 2019 to reveal the forces at play in an attempt to “capture the state”.
McBride said when he arrived at Ipid, taking over from its acting director Koekie Mbeki, he requested an update on all high-profile cases the institution was working on.
He was briefed on the rendition case by Matthews Sesoko (then acting Ipid national head of investigations) and Innocent Khuba (then acting provincial head of Ipid in Limpopo).
“I became very concerned at the way in which the case reached Ipid . . . I was concerned by the fact that the docket had been prepared by crime intelligence (CI) and brought to [Mbeki] who then handed it to Khuba and indicated that he must continue on this rendition case to work with [CI] and that he must circumvent from reporting to Sesoko who was his senior,” he said.
“For me the issue was why is CI involved in your investigation. Are we not separate from [the police] now?”
Quoting Khuba in a conversation they had, McBride said: “Khuba said to me, ‘boss, let me be open with you from the beginning. I was concerned and scared about this case from the day it was given to me’.”
McBride said he was told there were outstanding statements and a cellphone records analysis was still outstanding and needed to be added to the docket as evidence.
“In the initial weeks, I didn’t know there existed a report . . . from the report given to me by Khuba, there was a clear understanding who the suspects were and the roles they played. I asked who was involved, at what stage and what crime was committed at the various stages . . . It indicated a conspiracy from start to finish,” McBride said.
“I was under the impression that the investigation’s integrity had been compromised.”
He requested all the evidence to be reviewed. In the review, cellphone record analysis showed that Sibiya, in contrast to what three CI officers had stated, was not on any of the crime scenes as initially believed.
“Dramat’s association was that he was informed by a CI officer who was at the border that Zimbabwe officials wanted to see him because they were looking for suspects. He also congratulated officers for the arrest of the Zimbabweans. He was also among those who received automated bulk SMSs 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.
McBride told the commission that the report “effectively exonerated” them.
But months later, after Nhleko was appointed, he appointed a reference group whose members approached Ipid for a brief on its high-profile cases.
Members of the team, according to McBride, requested a copy of the entire docket on the rendition saga, along with all the exhibits in the case. Their request was backed by a letter from Nhleko demanding compliance.
McBride handed over the file and only days later, Dramat was suspended.
A statement from the police ministry, McBride recalled, said Dramat was suspended as result of the recommendations contained in a report by Ipid.
It appeared to McBride that the ministry had based their decision on the initial report which was finalised before he arrived at Ipid and, by his own account, was signed off only by Khuba.
McBride said Ipid released a statement clarifying that it had not recommended Dramat’s suspension.
“Ultimately he was forced out of the service,” he said about Dramat.
Nhleko went further, suspending McBride in March 2015 on allegations that he had altered the initial report to clear Dramat and Sibiya.
McBride took the decision to court and won the case.
His testimony was to be continued yesterday.