December 17, 2017

Little action to halt illicit financial flows

South Africa runs the risk of becoming the next Colombia if illicit financial flows and illegal mining continues at this rate.

That was the message from members of the Police Committee who were roundly unimpressed by the Hawks presentation at Parliament this week on its efforts to crack down on this escalating criminal trade which is depleting South Africa’s economy.

Most of the information presented by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, or the Hawks, had been heard by the Committee before and talk of 39 illegal mining hotspots and progress in investigations did not make much of an impression.

The number of arrests and ready for trial prosecutions amounted to a small fraction of the extent of illegal activities.

Two members of the Police Committee said they personally came from two of the identified hotspots. They confirmed that illegal mining was happening in their villages, quite openly and involving hundreds of residents. The point both made was that there was no sign of any police presence at all.

The Hawks performance had underwhelmed a previous Committee meeting held in August jointly with the Portfolio Committee on Mineral Resources, where the number of arrests and ready for trial prosecutions amounted to a small fraction of the extent of illegal activities.

That reportback covered April 2014 to March 2017. This week’s briefing brought it up to date (September 2017), and effectively demonstrated that little had been achieved since the last hearing.

The Hawks reported on 60 investigations into illicit financial flows. Three had been “finalised in court”, four more were trial ready. Six had been closed or withdrawn.

Apart from pages of detailed and fairly incomprehensible graphics, the report on illegal mining did include mention of the drafting of a Strategic Plan for 2014-2019 and an Annual Performance Plan. The aim was spelled out – to “coordinate and consolidate government’s efforts in combating illegal mining, [develop] regional and international cooperation and mitigate illegal mining and illicit trade of precious metals and diamonds”. However, details were not provided, perhaps for security reasons.

Illegal mining in South Africa forms part of huge international operations, and the Committee members seemed to agree that arrests, where they were made, were targeted at the wrong people.

Joseph Maake from the ANC described his last Christmas at home where “everyone in that village was happy. They had money to buy food and clothes.” This was because most people were employed, albeit illegally. “Everyone wakes up in the morning. They go to the open mine and they dig. I don’t see why it is called a hotspot. I haven’t seen the police doing anything.”

Petrus Groenewald said he was shown around the illegal mining operation in his home “hotspot” and was forced to the conclusion that the “mining intelligence is much better than [that of] the police”. He confirmed that the miners are informed preceding a police swoop and “before an operation takes place they just disappear”.

Groenewald was not disputing the Hawks report of the numbers of operations it had conducted, but he pointed to a weakness in policing strategy. Police tend to act in December, he said. “They [the miners] go home for Christmas so when the operation takes place the real people are not there.”

There was consensus that arresting villagers, whose chief source of income was largely illegal mining, was fairly pointless as hundreds more were ready to replace any individuals who might be arrested. The real criminals are those who are using international dealers to launder money and direct it out of the country.

“It is not going to help us to be told that they arrested our people. You are just arresting those people who are [being] used instead of those who are behind this whole thing,” said Philip Mhlongo of the EFF.

Without blaming the Hawks, the point was made explicit: Those higher up in the illicit mining chain who are close to power remained untouched.

Said Mhlongo: “Those people who are closer to power remain untouchable, just like the Guptas of this world who can just rape this nation just because of their proximity to power. Everyone can do whatever they like as long as they have political connections.”

One Committee member tactfully pointed out that given the capacity and skills available to South African law enforcement and investigation teams, they simply might not be up to the job.

“It is quite clear that the scope of the problem is enormous. It’s a complex environment, bigger than we can handle, especially when you take into account the fact that we are dealing with highly motivated syndicates.

“Especially when it comes to economic crimes, you are dealing with a very specialised set of issues and I do have concerns that the capacity in terms of personnel or specialised training might be a little bit behind the reality of what the criminals and the syndicates are able to do.”

“Some of these guys are operating in the 22nd century and we are just trying come to grips with the 21st century,” he added.

“Just give us an assurance that the sophistication of the syndicates and criminals in this environment is within the horizon of being caught up with and ultimately clamped down on because I can foresee this as something running completely rampant [and falling] outside the ability of our organised crime fighting strategy.”

A parallel was drawn with illegal narcotics syndicates, and it was suggested South Africa may be following Colombia in becoming a leading international crime centre with its own Escobar. No one made an attempt to suggest who South Africa’s Escobar might be.

“Why don’t you make arrests and close this down altogether. They are faster than your responses and the way you deal with them,” added Angelina Molebatsi of the ANC, expressing real frustration at the apparent incapacity to make arrests and bring this burgeoning criminality to a halt.

The inevitable reference to the Gupta’s could not be avoided, and it was left to Mhlongo of the EFF to make the connection. He did not hold back.

“Today we are [being] raped by one family, the Guptas, because of its closeness to the president of this country. They are plundering the resources of the nation while our children are crying for free education.

“Our natural resources must be used for the benefit of this nation. What is the point of having organised criminals depleting our natural resources just like vultures.

“I am afraid for South African because I can see what is happening,” he said. Although his time was up, he appealed to the Committee Chair to finish what he had to say, and it turned into an impassioned plea.

“As a committee we have a political responsibility. We owe this to our people.” Referring to the Hawks documents, he said he saw no point in “just counting statistics in order to rush time. We can’t just be fooled by these documents. It would be doing a great injustice to South Africa.

“People see that South Africa is becoming a lawless state. There is no justice. Where are the Guptas in this report? What about the Jacques Pauw book which revealed almost everything?

“For justice to be done it must be seen to be done by ordinary people so that it serves as a deterrent.” He asked if the rule of law still prevails in South Africa.” Where is our money?” he added.

Moira Levy

Last modified on Wednesday, 22 November 2017 13:26

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