SAfrica police visit official who criticized chief

AP News
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Posted: Mar 03, 2011 11:59 AM
SAfrica police visit official who criticized chief

A visit by South African police to the offices of a government watchdog could be seen as an attempt to intimidate her after she said their chief acted unlawfully in a real estate case, police said Thursday.

But the public protector said the only problem with Wednesday's visit was that that police didn't call ahead.

In a statement Thursday, spokesmen for police chief Bheki Cele strongly condemned what they called an "invasion" of the offices of the public protector, charged with investigating charges of wrongdoing by civil servants. They said an investigation was under way and unspecified action would be taken against those found responsible.

South Africa is beset by both high rates of violent crime and concern about leadership of the police. Cele took over the police last year, replacing a predecessor who was later convicted of graft for actions while in office.

Police management is concerned that the visit to the public protector's office "may be construed as intimidation of the office of the public protector designed to discourage it in performing its functions," the statement said, adding the officers involved "acted outside their mandate."

Kgalalelo Masibi, spokeswoman for public protector Thuli Madonsela, said: "There was no raid on the public protector.

"We had a visit from SAPS," she said, referring to the South African Police Service.

Masibi said officers identifying themselves as from the crime intelligence unit asked for information about a document relating to the real estate investigation. They were given a complete list of the documents Madonsela used in her probe, Masibi said. Masibi said the officers should have given the prosecutor advance notice of their visit, and said that message was relayed to police officials after the visit.

Police spokesman McIntosh Polela said that despite Madonsela's assessment, police management were "upset," in part because even they had not been informed in advance of the visit.

"Whether they broke down doors or came in subtly, it still will be seen as an act of intimidation," Polela said.

"The fact that the visit was unannounced is unacceptable," he said. "The fact is, protocol was not followed."

Last month, the public protector issued a report on the leasing of new headquarters offices in which she concluded Cele's conduct was "unlawful" and broke rules intended to ensure public money is not misspent. Her investigation found that by dealing with only one company _ owned by a man described as a friend of the president _ and failing to seek competitive bids, Cele violated laws and regulations meant "to ensure that goods and services are procured in accordance with a system that is fair, equitable, transparent, competitive and cost effective."

Cele has denied wrongdoing, saying he entrusted the handling of the lease to lower-ranking officers and to another government department.

Johan Burger, a former assistant national police commissioner who now studies policing in South Africa, said independent investigators should quickly determine why officers visited the public protector this week, to reassure a wary public.

News of the raid "creates the idea (Cele) is as corrupt as his predecessor was," Burger said. "It may be completely unjustified. But this is what the average person on the street will be thinking."