Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI): Mandate and Activities

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17 September 2014
Chairperson: Mr F Beukman(ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) briefed the Committee on its mandate and activities and information on the performance levels of the DPCI in the fight against corruption and serious criminal offences. The presentation focused on the background to the establishment of the DPCI and an emphasis of its specific mandate, to prevent, combat and investigate national priority offences, focusing on serious organised crime; serious commercial crime and serious corruption. The DPCI highlighted various legislative provisions that had a bearing on these national priority offences. It was noted that the DPCI guidelines contained provisions around instructions on assistance given to the DPCI to perform its obligations. One of such instructions was the establishment of a financial threshold to determine the serious cases that would be handled by the DPCI, which was later explained as cases involving R5 million and upwards, although there were also other considerations that were also taken into account. The  operating HAWKS model (Seek, Find, and Succeed with Impact) of the DPCI was explained, and significant successes of the DPCI in fighting corruption were also highlighted, with examples given of some cases.  The DPCI managed to make 1 218 arrests for Serious Organised Crime (SOC) and had 828 convictions in the 2013/14 financial year. Some of the allegations and convictions against members of the SAPS themselves were also described.

The DPCI focused on different types of national threats, which included narcotics, human trafficking, rhino poaching, illicit mining, crimes involving non-ferrous metals, specific violent crimes, vehicles crimes, and smuggling and economic crimes. Those being investigated often had substantial power themselves which posed a risk to the integrity of investigations, but the DPCI was aware of and tackling that issue. The budget figures were explained and it was noted that it still received its allocation via the vote for Police, although it was regarded as a distinct programme and the National Head of DPCI had full control over monies appropriated to it. The DPCI was awaiting the decision on a further request to the National Treasury for DPCI to be named as a specific programme in the 2015 allocations.

Members asked about the integrity of the personnel of the DPCI and how the training was focused, and whether it was actually allowing them to do their job. Members noted that they had concerns previously arising out of specific questions put to investigators that revealed less than full understanding of the nature of the investigations being done. They asked why so few convictions were obtained from the cases brought to court, and were told that the conviction rate was outside the control of the DPCI but that it was focusing on quality of investigations. Members asked about the relationship between the HAWKS and other units of the SAPS, and, upon hearing that it was collaborating with the Crime and Intelligence Unit, one Member raised her concerns that whilst she still had a problem with the DPCI reporting directly to the National Commissioner (a matter that was being questioned in court at the moment) the involvement with this Unit could also add to the risk of interference. The DPCI responded that the collaboration was effective and that it had never had a problem with undue interference. Members asked if complaints were made about the DPCI's execution of its duties, and how they were dealt with, and wondered if the pending court cases had affected the morale of officers. They asked for details of the case load, and the cases closed, and whether there were targets for convictions. Members also had concerns whether cyber-crime unit was adequately resourced, in view of the growing nature of this crime, and whether there was cooperation with international bodies. She asked, therefore, whether the cyber unit  was being given resources sufficient to tackle this trend, which was to become "the crime of the future”. They also enquired whether the DPCI had engaged in any public communications campaigns on the scams,  

and expressed concern that the protection and encouragement to whistle-blowers was still not ideal, so many did not bother to report. Members wanted more clarity on how serious corruption and crime were defined, whether the DPCI relied solely on leads from other sources, what the DPCI was doing to prevent its trained personnel being poached, particularly by addressing remuneration and working conditions, and whether environmental crimes such as poaching should be dealt with by DPCI or the Detectives Unit. Overall the DPCI stressed that it had a strong integrity management system that was probably to be emulated in SAPS, that none of its investigations had been compromised and that its operational independence was not threatened. Members noted that more work still needed to be done on the operational and budget arrangements of the DPCI.

Meeting report

Briefing by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI): Mandate and activities briefing
Mr Anwa Dramat: Head, Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), South African Police Service, indicated that the process to establish the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) was embarked upon, to enhance the capacity of the South African Police Service (SAPS) to prevent, combat and investigate national priority offences. Part of the process involved the transfer of the powers, investigations and resources from the former Directorate of Special Operations (DSO / Scorpions). The SAPS Amendment Act, No. 57 of 2008, was signed into operation on 20 February 2009, along with the amendment to the National Prosecuting Authority Act (Act No 56 of 2008), in order to establish the DPCI.

Gen Dramat repeated that the mandate of the DPCI was essentially to prevent, combat and investigate national priority offences, focusing on serious organised crime; serious commercial crime and serious corruption. Organised crime was crime through criminal entities that were designed for the commission of serious national and transnational crimes, geared towards profit, and achieved through illegal activities. The syndicates operated within an organised criminal business system with a structure greater than any individual member and huge potential for corruption and/or violence to facilitate the criminal activities and processes.

Gen Dramat took the Committee through the types of national threats, which included:
- Narcotics
- Human Trafficking
- Rhino Poaching
- Illicit Mining
- Theft and misuse of Non Ferrous Metals
- Specific Violent Crimes
- Vehicles Crimes
- Illicit Cigarettes
- Economic Crimes         

He noted that the DPCI, also known as the Hawks, was based on the characteristics of “Seek, Find, Strike and Succeed with impact”. The component for Serious Organised Crime (SOC) was mandated to prevent, combat and investigate  offences such as narcotics and chemical monitoring, environmental crimes, vehicle related crimes and human trafficking. Other additional offences that were investigated by the DPCI involved serious violent crime, non-ferrous metals, illicit mining and crimes against the State (CATS).

Mr Lindokuhle Ngcobo, Chief Financial Officer, DPCI, indicated that the total allocated budget for the DPCI for the 2013/14 financial year was R291.403 million and the expenditure was R310.611 million (106, 59% of budget). Sections 17H & K of the SAPS Amendment Act of 2012 stipulated that the DPCI must be included as a distinct programme in the budget vote for Police, and that the National Head of the DPCI shall have control over the monies appropriated by Parliament for the expenses of the DPCI. In 2014, the National Commissioner of the SAPS had submitted a request to the National Treasury (NT), asking that  DPCI be included as a distinct programme in the Vote for Police in the 2015/16 financial year. The DPCI was still awaiting a definite answer on this point. The Directorate had managed to make 1 218 arrests for SOC in the 2013/14 financial year, and had achieved 828 convictions.

In January 2010, the Tactical Operations Management Section (TOMS) was established, with the task of tracking the 50 most wanted suspects in the country who were involved in cash-in-transit heist, ATM bombings, armed robberies, murder, and other crimes. The DPCI apprehended all 50 on the list.

He described some of the recent cases. A Canadian citizen had falsified documents relating to Kimberley Process Certificates, and thereby managed to launder a diamond worth R50 million out of South Africa, via Geneva, to USA. He was later arrested through a multi-disciplinary approach between the SA, US customs and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). He was fined R1 million and the diamond was recovered. This person had been declared persona non grata in the country. In another case, involving investment fraud, three Free State businessmen appeared in court on charges of fraud, theft and money laundering. The accused, as trustees and financial advisors of a construction development scheme, recruited investments from members of the public allegedly to develop a conference centre in Bloemfontein. Approximately R4 million was invested, but only later did the victims become aware that no construction work was done.

In cases involving endangered species, the DPCI investigations focused on species such as abalone and rhino poaching. During the current reporting period, 104 persons were arrested and 46 convicted. Various operations and projects were conducted and the following successes were achieved:
- 1 872 charges of racketeering were laid, and R55 million worth of assets were restrained
- DPCI seized 20 rhino horns and 5,5 tons of ivory, 630 400 US dollars and 1 120 000 Vietnamese Dong
- A sentence of ten years imprisonment was imposed on a rhino poacher from Zimbabwe
- A total of 46 years imprisonment was imposed on five accused who smuggled abalone from the Eastern Cape to Mozambique (:18 years; 7 years; 8 years; 18 months and 3 years respectively).

Gen Dramat provided the Members with the following value of the seizures made by the DPCI:

- Vehicles = R 44 314 505

- Vehicle parts = R 22 000 000

- Cash = R 26 681 028

- PMDs (acronym not explained) = R 11 664 456

- Firearms = R 70 000

- Property = R248 500 000

- Drugs = R 78 120 430

- Illicit cigarettes = R 22 531 600

Gen Dramat said that by end March 2014, 52 persons were convicted in serious corruption cases where more than R5 million was involved. The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) obtained preservation and restraint orders to the value of R1.381 billion by the end of March 2014. 435 individuals were processed through criminal investigations in the Justice Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) Cluster, and 254 had been convicted. Members of the SAPS arrested a suspect for being in possession of cash that he could not explain, the money was booked into the SAP13. The case was later withdrawn. A Detective Group Commander was instructed to deposit the money at the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), the accused returned with a receipt and the file was closed. However, a later enquiry was made by the accused's attorney, he was referred to the SARB and as a result of their further investigations, the Detective Group Commander was charged and convicted of theft, fraud, forgery and uttering, and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment without the option of a fine.

The Chairperson asked how the DPCI ensured that the officers were beyond reproach and reliable, and wanted an assurance that the officers who investigated the police officers themselves would be able to do so without any outside interference or bias. He asked what specific training was in place to assist the ability of DPCI officers to carry out their duties to ensure that corrupt police officers were held accountable.

Gen Dramat responded that the SAPS Amendment Act of 2008 required that the DPCI personnel must pass through security clearance. This clearance was not done by the DPCI, but by the division’s crime intelligence. Recently, about 1 054 people were cleared. The DPCI had also subjected its personnel to drug testing, and the results received were reviewed and acted upon. There were also investigations carried on allegations of theft by its personnel. Meticulous records in relation to financial disclosure of all the personnel were kept. Whenever any issues that called into question the integrity of personnel were detected, these would be referred to the anti-corruption unit and if they were drug-related, this would be referred to the organised crime unit. If the evidence warranted it, arrests would be immediately made. He assured the Chairperson and Committee that the work was being carried out without any outside interference or bias. However, one pressing issue was the power possessed by persons in organised crime, which had been used to discredit the investigations against them. All of such complaints on the credibility of the investigations would be directed to the retired judge appointed in terms of the legislation.

Gen Dramat said, in relation to training, that last year, all personnel of the DPCI were exposed to anti-corruption training. In addition, there had also been supply chain corruption training, to assist personnel in that specific regard. He also informed the Committee that the focus of the DPCI was on the higher levels of corruption, to clean up the machinery established to tackle crime. There was also another new focus on other government departments. Sadly, some numbers of police officers had come under the radar of the DPCI and had been arrested. The project investigations were under threat, and the DPCI looked at what was behind and facilitating that specific threat, and there was a continuous process in that regard, and in detecting any officers who were corrupt. He emphasised that corruption was not limited to the top level of government, and ranked from the lowest clerk up to the top levels.

Ms M Molebatsi(ANC) asked whether the criminal-personnel training of the HAWKS department had improved. She explained that she had once engaged with an investigator from the DPCI closely on this issue, and the manner in which the particular investigation was carried out did not inspire confidence, as the investigator seemed not to be sure of what he was doing.

Ms Molebatsi also commented that the conviction rate of 184, out of the 404 serious commercial crime cases that were heard by the court, was low and want to know why that was so.

Gen Dramat responded that though there should be more convictions, the conviction rate was determined by many variables not entirely within the control of the DPCI. The focus of the DPCI was on providing high quality investigation and it engaged with its partners to present its completed investigations and get them to court within a shorter space of time, which in turn eased the process of getting the convictions.

Ms Molebatsi asked if the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services was consulted before the appointment of the retired judge, as required.

Gen Dramat said that he could not respond to this question because the details on the appointment of the retired judge, as well as his budget, lay within the domain of the Civilian Secretariat for Police Services (the Secretariat) and not the DPCI.

Mr J Maake (ANC) wanted to know if there was a relationship between the HAWKS and the other departments in the South African Police Service (SAPS), particularly in regard to collating information, and wondered if this was done collectively or individually.

Gen Dramat responded that the DPCI was doing collaborative and co-operative work with other departments, and one of the key units with whom it collaborated was the Crime and Intelligence unit, which made an immense contribution in assisting the DPCI to tackle the crimes it was mandated to deal with, in terms of providing intelligence and assisting in operational modalities.

Ms M Mmola (ANC) wanted to know if the DPCI received any complaints from the public concerning the execution of DPCI's duties.

Gen Dramat responded that such complaints were made, and these had been submitted to the retired judge for investigation.

Ms D Kohler-Barnard (DA) asked about the effect of the pending court cases on the operations of the DPCI, and the morale of the officers of the Division. She commented that no list was provided of the full case load of the DPCI, nor was there any indication of the number of cases that were closed. The targets of the DPCI in relation to crime detection were not reflected and she wanted to know if there were indeed targets, if they had been met, or exceeded, and the conviction rates in respect of those targets. She observed that the cyber-crime unit of the DPCI was extremely small and was assisted by the provisions of the Electronic Communications Transaction Act of 2002 which mandated for a provision of a three-year E-strategy. However, hundreds of millions of rand had been siphoned from financial institutions by cyber- criminals. She asked, therefore, whether the cyber unit  was being given resources sufficient to tackle this trend, which was to become "the crime of the future”.

Gen Dramat responded that the court cases as well other challenges did have the potential to affect the morale of DPCI personnel, but that the DPCI had tried to keep its personnel focused on what was required of the unit, in terms of its mandate. It had managed to keep its personnel focused on the tasks required of them, and have exposed to them to training to assist them. The resourced had been provided to personnel to enable them to fulfil their duties. Updates on the development of the court cases were to be provided in due course.

Brigadier Kubandran Moodley, Section Head: Anti-Corruption Unit, DPCI, added that the anti-corruption scheme had been extended to 2019 and there had been new targets set, and that new programmes had been established and approved. For example, Programme 1 dealt with the issue of communication, and Programme 4 was primarily focused on looking at corruption at the vulnerable sectors like construction, development and other issues, whilst Programme 5 dealt with the investigation and resolution of corruption in government.

Gen Dramat spoke to the case loads, saying that although he did not have the current figures with him at the time, the policy of the DPCI overall was to ensure that it would not be bogged down with large caseloads, as the amount of time required to access and collate the data would otherwise not allow for those cases to be dealt with in a way that would make a real impact. The DPCI was not case-based but threat-based, so it concentrated on identifying the threat, and then discovering the identity of the targets of such threat, and then developing the cases on the persons identified that were relevant to the threat, instead of collecting case dockets as such. As a result, the style of the DPCI was not been set according to how many dockets or cases it had. There was also a move to adopt a project investigation approach, which had more relevance in curbing organised crime. This approach was focused on research to identify the suppliers of the technology or persons at the helm of the organised crime syndicate who were assisting with the commission of the crime, and building a case against them, rather than compiling several individual case dockets.

Gen Dramat also agreed that cyber-crime was a new global threat, and hence the DPCI had delegated specific personnel to follow up on the issue. Pursuant to this, a digital forensic laboratory had been established and though there were initially only two personnel, this number had grown considerably. A considerable portion of the training budget of the DPCI was being allocated to the training of more personnel to be deployed to this department.  The DPCI had acquired mobile forensic equipment to assist in this regard, and this would be deployed to all provinces as a result of the expansion of the DPCI in relation to cyber-crime. However, there was still room for more improvement and the DPCI was committed to continuing to grow in its efforts to combat cyber-crime. There was some challenge around the training of personnel, as they would, once trained, invariably be poached or recruited by the private sector.

Mr D Mbhele (DA) wanted to know if the DPCI managed to engage in public education campaigns in respect of the 419 fraud scams mentioned, to raise awareness of the kinds of scams operated. He noted that the corporate communications department of the DPCI still needed to be capacitated, and asked the time scale for this. 

Gen Dramat responded that the DPCI had partnered with different organisations to deal with commercial crime investigators, and various programmes had been started, to educate the public on the issues. The focus of DPCI on corruption was generally at the higher level of corruption, and he repeated that it was trying to clean up the machinery established to tackle crime. He also informed the committee that the DPCI was a sub programme, and as such the Head of the DPCI does not have full control over the budget. The allocation and budget was done through the Provincial Commissioners.

Mr M Tshishonga (AGANG SA) observed that one of the problems in tackling corruption was that the whistle blowers were not encouraged to come forward, and they either became discouraged or felt that even if they did provide information, it would not be used, or they were not being given any feedback. In addition, the protection afforded to those who did whistle-blow was inadequate, and that was another reason why they were reluctant to come forward.

Gen Dramat responded that there were various measures that had been put in place to ensure the safety of the whistle blower and DPCI did have models to ensure their confidentiality. He added that these measures should be encouraged , in order to successfully fight corruption.
Mr Tshishonga asked for more clarification on the difference between serious corruption and not so serious corruption. He wanted to know if the attack on the credibility of the investigator of the corruption charges did not also apply to the credibility of the whistle blower.

Mr Mbhele observed that R5 million was apparently used as the benchmark to determine when the corruption allegation became "serious", and wanted to know if this benchmark also applied to scenarios like organised crime and commercial crime. He also asked whether the DPCI would initiate cases on their own or if it always waited for referrals from SAPS.

Gen Dramat said that the focus of the DPCI was, in terms of the Act, on serious corruption. However, this term was not defined in the Act and had been supplemented by guidelines on applying the Act, and it was those guidelines that came up with a financial threshold to quantify serious corruption, for instance, the mention of the R5 million. However, that figure was not the only one threshold as there were other aspects, including the case selection criteria - namely, whether there was organised crime involved. However, the use of the financial threshold was important in determining whether the corruption was serious.

Mr Vineshkumar Moonoo, Divisional Commissioner: Detective Services, SAPS, added that the DPCI and the Detectives Unit developed a six-criteria standard to be used for determining which body handled each case. These criteria included, amongst others, the scope, complexity, public interest and urgency of the case. If these dimensions were allocated points totalling more than 80%, then such cases were immediately referred to the DPCI.

Mr D Twala (EFF) requested the DPCI to inform the Committee of its challenges and the assistance that could be provided by the Committee in this regard. He asked whether DPCI had taken any steps to ensure that its staff, once trained, would not be poached by the private sector.

Mr P Groenewald (FF+) observed that the integrity of the staff was influenced by how adequately they were compensated. There was an observation that trained staff tended to leave and move to the private sector, and that was indicative of the need for adequate compensation. He further asked what was the strategy in place to improve the well-being of trained personnel.

The Chairperson wanted to know which person was specifically in charge in fighting environmental crimes like rhino poaching, and wanted an update on the position in terms of progress and resources. He wondered whether the issue of environmental crimes should be dealt with by the HAWKS instead of SAPS' Detectives unit.

Gen Dramat said that as far as rhino poaching was concerned, there were different administrative levels set at DPCI to handle the issue, and there was collaboration between the Detectives Unit and DPCI in this regard. While the former focused on individual cases, for which case dockets were created, the latter focused on the financiers of those poaching and the persons at the helm of the operations. DPCI further focused on the markets used to sell the poached goods and was trying find a way to curb the activities. This was more efficient, because if the market was efficiently reduced or stopped, this would result in a serious blow to that particular crime.

Ms Molebatsi wanted to find out if cyber-crime was initiated in an overseas network or another local or regional sophisticated network. She wondered if the DPCI could travel overseas to get permission to access the information, and asked what other steps it could take. She also asked whether the operational committee had been established and whether board meetings had been held so far.

Gen Dramat responded that the DPCI had a good relationship with INTERPOL, as it received information from and liaised with that body when contacting other international counterparts. Therefore a multi-institutional disciplinary approach was used when it came to curbing cyber-crime. The DPCI did not need to do any physical applications to access information on cyber-crimes from other countries, except in some instances where there was a need for further explanations to be made to the Attorney-General of the foreign country on the investigation being carried out.

Gen Dramat added that, in relation to referrals, the DPCI did not rely exclusively on referrals and did generate its own cases.

Mr Maake asked whether there was a strategy in place to ensure that there was integrity in the management training of staff of SAPS, and what was done to ensure "clean investigation" in all cases.

Ms Kohler-Barnard highlighted that crime and intelligence fell directly within SAPS. This DPCI was still reporting directly to the National Commissioner of Police. The whole point of the HAWKS was that it should not report to the Commissioner, but should be independent. Furthermore, if the HAWKS used the Crime Intelligence Unit (CIU) of SAPS, the CIU would also report on the actions of HAWKS to the Commissioner, and this was another possibility of creating room for interference with the duties of the HAWKS. Although DPCI was forced to use the CIU, this was a huge problem affecting their efficiency. Another huge problem was that the Head of the HAWKS did not have full control over the budget. It was of concern that the DPCI was not a completely separate entity from SAPS, as this would have ensured that there was a clear differentiation of roles and functions 

Gen Dramat noted that as far as integrity management in the SAPS was concerned, the National Commissioner of Police had begun to look into establishing, within SAPS, a similar integrity management programme as was found in the DPCI. He said that although there were indeed some challenges faced in ensuring the independence of DPCI from SAPS, they had not, in practice, prevented DPCI from executing its duties as required by its mandate and that none of the investigations communicated to the CIU had been compromised. The profile of the person that is investigated, or what connections to others that person might have, were of no concern to the DPCI, and as such the DPCI had not experienced any difficulty in pursuing matters that did not refer to it, nor had it been influenced by any outside interference.

The Chairperson thanked those in attendance, and summarised that it was clear that there was more work that still needed to be done on the operational and budget arrangements of the DPCI.

The meeting was adjourned.

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