Mbeki Assassination Plot' Weird Even by Hefer's Standards
The Hefer commission was a great spectacle and now, alas, it is over. But just one little thing before we finally bid it goodbye.
In the course of the commission, former intelligence officer Mo Shaik made the claim that several people associated with the Scorpions would be arrested in connection with a shadowy plot to kill President Thabo Mbeki. Even by Hefer standards, this was a dramatic claim.
The allegation was linked to the arrest the weekend before of peripatetic intelligence operative Bheki Jacobs, also known as Uranin Vladimir Dzerzhinsky Joseph Solomon. Jacobs was arrested in connection with a controversial document Report to the Honourable Patricia de Lille.
Jacobs was arrested first on fraud charges and then on a list of conspiracy charges in connection with a plot to kill the president. Actually, the document was not so much a conspiracy to kill the president, but a warning of a conspiracy to kill him. If Jacobs was the author of the document, and if it contained any logic, it might have made more sense to question him about it rather than arrest him as a co-plotter.
Jacobs was arrested at 6am on November 22, after police arrived at his parent s' house at 3am. He was held for two hours until an arrest warrant was obtained, taken to Ysterplaat air force base in Cape Town, and held there before being transported by private jet to Pretoria. The South African Police Service jet is the one used for official functions by police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
Jacobs was charged on Monday November 24 with conspiracy to murder, among other charges. Later that day, Shaik made his dramatic claims.
Jacobs stayed in custody the whole week while police went through his computer hard-drives and questioned him. By Friday he was released, but still faces a charge in connection with holding several passports.
What happened in those five days to convince police that the case was suspect? And why the rush to get him to Pretoria? How did Shaik know about all of this and get to make his dramatic statement? And, more intriguingly, why was Jacobs arrested in the first place?
Jacobs himself provides some clues to these questions, in his final statement to the court. Apparently, the reason he was released was simply because the police discovered the document was not written on his computer. Instead of being the originator of the document, he was merely one of the dozens of people involved in its dissemination.
Jacobs claims the first he heard about it was on November 17 or 18. A ThisDay reporter, Chiara Carter, phoned him to ask whether he was the author. He subsequently got hold of the document from a journalist friend, Ace Mxolisa, on November 18.
There was a frantic round of forwarding e-mail versions of the document for a week, and it was in this round of e-mails that Shaik got hold of the document, by a convoluted route.
Shaik confirms that he passed the document to someone in the police, who passed it to senior police intelligence officer Raymond Lalla, an old associate of Shaik's from Operation Vula days.
Jacobs seems philosophical about his arrest, but he and Economists Allied for Arms Reduction chairman Terry Crawford-Browne have asked police for an explanation, which has not been forthcoming.
Jacobs makes the telling point that far from being a conspiracy to murder the president, it is a warning he could be the subject of a murder plot. This is hardly the basis for a conspiracy charge, although making the claim frivolously is obviously dangerous.
More dramatically, the duo claim they have now learned a list was compiled and that just as Shaik claimed about 30 people were on the verge of being arrested, including Crawford-Browne himself.
The list constitutes a sort of who's who in the cast of characters involved in the arms deal. Crawford-Browne is known as an ardent campaigner against the R50bn procurement deal, and is launching a court case to challenge the constitutionality of the purchase. Others on the list include the strident arms deal contractor, Richard Young, CEO of arms company C²I², who is also involved in a civil case claiming he was fraudulently excluded from certain contracts. Interestingly, several journalists were also apparently on the list, including occasional Business Day contributor Paul Kirk.
Shaik claimed several members of the Scorpions were on the list, but who they were is not clear. However, it seems the list did include former Weekly Mail journalist and now Scorpions member Ivor Powell. At the top of the list, however, was parliamentarian Patricia de Lille, to whom the document was addressed.
Jacobs says Shaik was involved in a "brilliant diversionary tactic" involving smoke and mirrors. Young says those targeted were the "counterrevolutionaries" who were considered troublemakers or whistle-blowers.*
The remaining questions are who on earth was the policeman who thought the document was a sufficient basis on which construct a criminal charge against 30 people, and whether this person still has a job?
With acknowledgements to Tim Cohen and the Business Day.