Scorpions: briefing

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Police

16 November 1999
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SAFETY AND SECURITY PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
16 November 1999
SCORPIONS: PRESENTATION BY THE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS, DR NGUCKA

Documents handed out
Briefing document (email info@pmg.org.za for copy)

Summary of the presentation
Priority crimes with which the Scorpions are to deal with:
Organised crime, in particular transnational organised crime, drug trafficking, 'carjacking' and smuggling/dealing in illegal firearms;
Terrorism [for example the activities of PAGAD in the Western Cape];
Corruption within the South African Police Service; and
Serious economic offences [such as major corporate frauds involving millions or rands].

Criteria for determining whether the SAPS or the Scorpions are to deal with individual cases
Ngcuka pointed out that the Scorpions were not meant to replace the SAPS, but to provide a supplement by allowing them to deal with the most serious priority crimes. But not all of the above categories of crime are to be dealt with by the Scorpions. The SAPS will still deal with 90%, with the Scorpions only dealing with the remaining 10%. The following criteria have been put forward in order to determine whether the Scorpions take a case:

The level of seriousness and harm the crime causes at an individual and societal level;
Whether the case involved a high level of violence;
The degree of organisation involved, and whether the crime was part of an ongoing criminal enterprise;
The extent to which the case requires a multidisciplinary approach in order that it be effectively solved;
Whether the case was very high profile, for example the assassination of a politician.

Variations in focus and emphasis on each priority crime according to time and circumstance
Ngcuka stated that the priority crimes - of organised crime, terrorism, police corruption and serious economic offences - would not necessarily require the same degree of focus all of the time. The level of attention devoted to each will vary according to need and circumstance. The intensity and ferocity of the activities of the terrorist organisation PAGAD at any given time, for example, will be an important factor in determining how much time and resources the Scorpions devote to detection and prosecution of active members.

Some of the most important reasons behind the creation of the Scorpions
The South African Police Service is completely overworked and under-resourced, with each officer carrying an average of 80 dockets. The creation of the Scorpions will help to ensure that the most serious cases are prioritised and solved in an effective manner;
There has been a fragmented approach between departments and a duplication of functions when dealing with crime [for example, information on organised crime was fragmented amongst various SAPS units and intelligence agencies, including the National Intelligence Agency, the Gold and Diamond Smuggling Unit and Endangered Species Unit];
Generally, the Scorpions were set up to reduce duplication, increase co-ordination and help utilise available resources more effectively.

The need to amend old legislation
The new specialised unit is presently continuing to use old legislation when exercising their powers and functions. There are at several acts in need of amendment in order to facilitate the objectives of greater co-ordination and integration. Ngcuka said that - in spite of the fact that the necessary legislation still remained only at discussion phase - greater co-ordination has been achieved in the process of setting up of the Scorpions. However, the unit will only truly be complete when the old agencies act under the new unified legislation presently under discussion.

Creation of clear structures of responsibility and accountability for the Scorpions
As already pointed out, the Scorpions are a specialised elite unit set up to deal with the most serious crime problems facing South Africa today. Under the supervision of the Director of Public Prosecutions there will be two specialised departments: the Investigations Unit and the Special Prosecutors Unit - to be headed by the Chief Executive Officer and the Head of Special Prosecutors respectively.

Investigations are sub-divided into three further units: crime projects, analysis and operational support.

The Special Prosecutors Unit is divided into four sub-departments: Organised crime, the Office of Serious Economic Offences, Corruption and General Crime. Provincial guidelines will also be put in place, with funds being allocated in proportion to population and nature and incidence of crime in each province.

A Steering Committee will be put in place to aid the creation of clear structures of responsibility, with the agreement of the representatives from the SAPS, the SASS, the NIA and the NPA needed when determining responsibilities for various types of case. The Scorpions will not carry out arrests- this responsibility will remain with the South African Police Service and the National Intelligence Agency.

In relation to accountability, both the Chief Executive Officer and the Head of Special Prosecutors will be accountable to the Director of Public Prosecutions (presently Bulelani Ngcuka), who is in turn accountable to an inter-ministerial security committee. However, for day to day operations, the Investigative and Prosecutorial heads are accountable to the President.

Accountability and the need to create clear structures will be further promoted by the setting up of the Office of Internal Integrity. This, Ngcuka said, is not strictly within the Scorpions, but exists to monitor its overall performance. The person who is to head this monitoring has not yet been appointed, although they are presently searching for a suitable candidate. The person will be recruited from abroad, although Ncguka stressed that successive appointees should not be taken from just one country.

Recruitment and training
Recruitment will be carried out through advertising, with experienced members of the SAPS, NIA, and SASS making up the initial recruits. Recruits must have a university degree, be aged between 24 and 35 and be "fit, bright and courageous". One hundred new recruits are currently being selected, with 50 to be sent to the FBI training school in Quantico in the United States and 50 to Scotland Yard in the United Kingdom. The initial vetting is to be carried out by the NIA, SASS, SAPS and the SANDF, and comprises an inter-departmental team. Some assistance is being given by the private sector.

Questions for discussion
Ndlovu (IFP) asked: Firstly, how long it will take to amend legislation to give concrete guidance as structures, functions and responsibilities of the Scorpions?; and, secondly, who will vet the vetters?

Ngcuka answered that his department had been working on a third draft of the bill which is presently being circulating for comments. He hopes to present a concrete draft to parliament by February. As regards vetting the vetters, Ngcuka said that selecting the selectors requires careful consideration. Selecting the best recruits is essential for an organisation like the Scorpions to succeed, and corruption in the process must be avoided at all costs.

Mackintosh (DP) questioned the need to create the Scorpions independently of the SAPS - the only difference between the two being the existence of specialist prosecutors within the former- and inquired as to whether a specialised unit could not have been created within the SAPS? He also asked if the FBI was behind the recent arrest of Pallazolo, and whether he was to be extradited?

In relation to the first question, Ngcuka said that the idea of having another unit within the SAPS was considered in discussion, but was decided to be unacceptable. Something new was needed, and he felt that the public would also agree. There was also the important objective of prioritising resources and establishing clear lines of accountability. The Scorpions could not be incorporated within either the SAPS or the NIA. As regards Pallazolo [alleged to be a high-ranking Mafia money launderer], Ngcuka replied that he did not know whether or not he would be extradited. Although there had been discussions with the Italians, no formal request has yet been made.

Taljaard (DP), suggested that there is the possibility of professional rivalry developing between the SAPS and the Scorpions, and asked how they could be run on a day-to-day basis without overlap. She also asked whether the agreements with the FBI and Scotland Yard to train the Scorpions would affect the existing arrangements for the training of detectives within the SAPS.

Ngcuka said that the Scorpions are not there to replace the SAPS, but to supplement them. Often, the Scorpions might determine that they do not have enough time or resources to pursue a referred case, and thus send it back to the SAPS. Furthermore, there is no police station for the Scorpions - it remains the job of the police to arrest suspects and refer cases on to them. However, sometimes the Scorpions would initiate their own investigations where, for example, there are serious allegations in the media or where the Minister of Safety and Security refers a case to them. If it can be agreed when cases should be referred - and when the Scorpions should initiate their own investigation - then there is no reason why the relationship between the SAPS and the Scorpions cannot be made to work. As regards training, Ngcuka said what do we need to do to make the Scorpions a different class? The answer, he said, is to recruit the best graduates who can be given the best training internationally. There will be continued co-operation with the FBI in other areas, indeed they are talking about setting up an international law enforcement agency in South Africa.

Geldenhuys (NNP), asked whether some specific unsolved cases mentioned in the press were being solved.

Ngcuka replied that they do not know if all these cases can be solved, but he plans to meet the family of one of the victims. He went on to say that the Scorpions are making a difference, and that one might be surprised how many people are coming to us for with information. This helps gain credibility - previously lacking - for the police service and law enforcement in general.

One member asked who wil be paying for the training and the salaries.

Ngucka answered that training is to be paid for by the FBI and Scotland Yard, and he is presently negotiating the payment of salaries.

Zondo (ANC) inquired about the screening process (amongst other things, conflict of interests). Ngucka replied that they check all potential recruits thoroughly for fitness and drugs. They also must declare their assets so as to avoid conflict of interest.

General Viljoen pointed out that there are big problems elsewhere in the justice system, for example, the number of awaiting trial prisoners is going up and up with no corresponding increase in prison space. What degree of co-operation and co-ordination will there be between the Scorpions and the Departments of Justice and Correctional Services?

In reply, it was conceded that the problem of awaiting trial prisoners is considerable. Not only is the number of prisoners going up, but also the number of days each prisoner spends awaiting trial. The idea of releasing those granted less than R1000 bail who were unable to pay has been applied, and it seems to have worked. Since this idea has been experimented with, figures have not gone up, but remained constant. Ngucka agreed that the criminal justice system was on a continuum [all parts being related], and that there will therefore be meetings between the Scorpions and justice/correctional services on these issues.

Chairperson George suggested that there are likely to be tensions between the Scorpions and the SAPS.

Ngcuka replied that there are no such tensions, and that one should look at all the structures which have been put in place. Certain people are not merely being automatically transferred from the SAPS to the Scorpions- everyone must apply and go through a rigorous selection procedure. A post with the Scorpions is available to anyone meeting the selection criteria. He had not heard of any question of tensions until reading the Star and the Cape Times this morning, and said that when we go to court you will see that there are no such tensions. There may be some interference with integrity but, again, these questions will be answered in court. There will always be people unhappy because they failed in the selection procedure - it is human nature to be envious.

Chairperson George, concluded by saying that people in South Africa must support the Scorpions for the sake of dealing with organised criminal syndicates and bringing the crime rate down. Up until now the police have only seemed capable of investigating the foot soldiers, whilst failing to put the orchestrators behind bars. He said that they fully support the Scorpions, and hope that the legislative problems will be sorted out soon.

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