Hawks round up 'hit squad' unit suspects
Twenty officers from Durban's disbanded elite crime-busting unit - branded in the media the ''Cato Manor Death Squad'' - spent the night behind bars after a nationwide swoop by heavily armed National Intervention Unit officers yesterday.
The arrested officers from the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit, ranks ranging from constable to full colonel, applied to the Durban High Court late on Wednesday afternoon to have their warrants of arrest set aside.
But Judge Trevor Gorven postponed the application indefinitely and ordered that the officers apply for bail today in the Durban Regional Court.
His order came after a day of confusion and anger over the way in which the 20 policemen, alleged to be members of a "hit squad", were arrested by a team led by their Hawks colleagues.
The disbanded unit was part of the Hawks.
The men had gathered at the unit's head office on Tuesday night with lawyer Carl van der Merwe after hearing that they were to be arrested on charges of murder, assault and unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition that night.
Van der Merwe wrote to Hawks head Anwa Dramat earlier in the week to state that the men would cooperate fully .
While they were at their office early yesterday morning, more than 60 National Intervention Unit police, led by Major-General Ntebo Mabula, the head of the Hawks in North West, swooped on their homes in Durban.
Two officers were arrested in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, and one on the West Rand.
The policemen began receiving telephone calls from their frantic wives, who had been forced to open doors to members of the arresting team, who were armed with search-and-seizure warrants.
Each of the 17 Durban officers, including the unit's operational commander, Colonel Willie Olivier, were taken to their home to witness the search-and-seizure operation and were then arrested.
They were taken to the police Air Wing premises at the old Durban International Airport.
In court papers filed yesterday afternoon, Van der Merwe said Mabula refused to give him a copy of the affidavit that supported the arrests, He said the affidavit submitted in application for the search warrant was a clear "rip-off".
Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela said an undisclosed amount of counterfeit cash, stolen property, crime-scene photographs and dockets were seized during the raid.
He said the two officers arrested in Hammanskraal were taken into custody at the police training college and the other policeman arrested in Gauteng lived on the West Rand and had been on sick leave for the past two years.
He said the provincial unit's head, Major-General Johan Booysen, was not arrested.
"Major-General Booysen is not part of the investigation and is not on the list of people we arrested," he said.
Booysen won a court battle earlier this year against his suspension after he was accused of failing to act on information implicating police officers under his command in the use of excessive force against suspects, and the operation of an alleged "death squad" at the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit.
The Sunday Times published pictures of police officers in what appeared to be a party mood at crime scenes in December.
Several witnesses claimed that unit members had "executed" suspects and often held booze-fuelled parties afterwards.
The newspaper reported that at least 51 suspicious killings had been linked to the suspected "hit squad".
Polela said the arrests did not relate to the murder of taxi boss Bongani Mkhize, who was allegedly gunned down by the Cato Manor unit in 2009.
He said more arrests were imminent.
"This was the first phase of the investigation. We expect that more arrests will follow."
Independent Police Investigative Directorate spokesman Moses Dlamini said the police watchdog began its investigation in January.
"Executive director Francois Beukman set up a team of investigators to review all the cases involving members of the Cato Manor Organised Crime Unit and finalise investigations," he said.
Warrant officers Paddy Padayachee, Paul Mostert, Raymond Lee, Eric Nel, Ajith Ganesh, Shane Naidoo, Eugene van Tonder (retired) and Jeremy Martin, and captains Neville Eva and Anton Lockem, received notices of "intention to suspend" and last month Colonel Olivier, the unit's operational commander, and warrant officers Wilbert Thabete, Peter George, Mac Makhanya, Themba Mkhwanazi, Tata Mdlose and Bongani Magwazi were told that they were being investigated.