Forensic firm appointed to probe SSA corruption: Ramaphosa

13 December 2021 - 19:01
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the state capture inquiry this week.
President Cyril Ramaphosa at the state capture inquiry this week.
Image: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS

The State Security Agency (SSA) has appointed an independent forensic firm to investigate all suspected cases of malfeasance, corruption and criminality in the agency.

President Cyril Ramaphosa revealed in a series of written replies to parliament that Ligwa Advisory Services was appointed on November 2 to investigate cases that were identified in the High Level Panel Report and by the inspector-general of intelligence.

The investigation will assist in determining what criminal prosecution or disciplinary steps need to be taken, he said.

Ramaphosa's replies were published by parliament on Monday.

“In addition to any matters referred for criminal prosecution, internal disciplinary steps will be taken against all individuals implicated in wrongdoing,” he said, responding to a question from DA leader John Steenhuisen.

Ramaphosa appointed the review panel in June 2018 to assess the structure of the SSA relative to its mandate and inquire into its systems and capacity.

It reported in March 2019, that, among other things, there had been “serious politicisation and factionalisation” of the intelligence community over the preceding decade or more. It said that this was based on factions within the ruling ANC, resulting in an almost complete disregard for the constitution, policy, legislation and other prescripts, and turning civilian intelligence community into a private resource to serve the political and personal interests of particular individuals.

Among the recommendations by the panel led by Sydney Mufamadi was the urgent institution of forensic and other investigations into the financial and control breaches in the agency, especially regarding the Principal Agent Network (PAN) project and Special Operations, leading to disciplinary and or criminal prosecutions.

The high-level panel's investigation found that the PAN was involved in “serious criminal behaviour ... under the guise of conducting covert work and that this behaviour may have involved theft, forgery and uttering, fraud, corruption and even bordered on organised crime”.

In his responses to parliament, Ramaphosa confirmed that PAN's former manager Graham Engel was promoted earlier this year to the position of general manager of operations in the domestic intelligence branch of the SSA.

Dianne Kohler Barnard, the DA's shadow minister for state security, had asked Ramaphosa whether he intended to reverse Engel's appointment by former minister Ayanda Dlodlo, whether he had signed off on the promotion and whether he was aware of Engel's three-year suspension from the SSA between 2010 and 2013.

Kohler Barnard also wanted to know whether Ramaphosa had found that former state security ministers and officials recruited and appointed agents loyal to them personally rather than to the state.

Engel was suspended in December 2010 for allegations of serious misconduct, pending the outcome of a disciplinary process. In August 2012, the final investigation report was submitted to the then acting SSA director-general.

In October 2013, the then SSA director-general directed that Engel's suspension be lifted, which was duly done, said Ramaphosa. Dennis Dlomo was the acting SSA director-general between 2012 and 2013. Ramaphosa said no charge sheet was ever issued to Engel. “The recommendation to charge the person with misconduct was never approved, so no hearing was held,” he said.

The investigation was conducted by a multidisciplinary investigation team that was appointed in 2010 and a final investigation report was submitted in August 2012. Ramaphosa said the report was never approved and therefore no disciplinary hearings were held. There was no official record that any SSA member handed over the “spy tapes” to Engel and since the agency had no official record that any of its members handed Engel the tapes, the SSA had no knowledge as to whether the “spy tapes” were encrypted.

Engel was promoted to the level of general manager as part of the batch of senior management appointments approved by Dlodlo earlier this year.

In one of the responses, Ramaphosa also revealed that Engel did not have top secret security clearance and that the vetting process remained incomplete due to an outstanding polygraph test.

With regards to the alleged irregular promotion of 26 managers at the SSA, Ramaphosa said this was referred to the Public Service Commission (PSC) for an independent evaluation of the processes that were followed.

He said recruitment of operatives by the agency was an intelligence operational matter.  Accordingly, it remains classified and privileged in accordance with section 10 of the Intelligence Services Act, he said in response to whether he intended to address a situation where at least 40 operatives had been recruited by the SSA without any criteria and who were allegedly disgruntled as they had not been placed in positions they were promised.

Ramaphosa also explained that the decision to place political responsibility for the SSA in the presidency was made to realign its work properly with the objectives of a developmental state.

He said the decision may be reviewed from time to time based on the circumstances and another member of cabinet may be designated to assume political responsibility as stated in the constitution.

Our objective is to implement the recommendations that have been set out in the High Level Review Panel Report. To that extent, we aim to repurpose and reposition the SSA to be an intelligence service that will effectively serve the interests of the people of SA.”

The process of reviewing the various pieces of intelligence legislation was under way and the powers of a member of the executive responsible for state security as they relate to the administration of the security services will be considered during this review process as per the recommendations of the high level review panel, he said.

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