Gunmen involved in over 1 000 murders the focus of SA's 'biggest ever' firearms investigation
Cape Town - A gun smuggling investigation said to be the biggest in South Africa, which has been hampered by murders, an information leak and tensions among some of the Western Cape’s top police officers, has been handed over to the Hawks and is back on track.
Investigators are now said to be focusing on, among other aspects, gunmen who carried out more than a thousand murders.
However the investigation, which sources with knowledge of say is the biggest in the country and which they say was initially being handled by Gauteng and Western Cape organised crime policing units, still faces hurdles.
Several sources say during a period when the future of the probe was uncertain, some suspects were murdered and others fled.
Gunmen have therefore become the focus of the investigation, but tracking them could prove tricky as firearms pass many hands.
Over months sources have said the investigation, which included probing how guns stolen from police were sold to gangsters, was set to lead to high level arrests in at least three provinces.
Info leak and infighting
But the mammoth investigation into illegal gun networks, which started a few years ago, has been hindered by several events.
These include that:
- It emerged in May that a confidential investigation diary in the matter was leaked. News24 understands it was apparently to lawyer Noorudien Hassan before he was murdered in November 2016. News24 also understands that the leaked information, relating to the case and with details about an informant, was apparently found in Hassan’s offices after he was killed. Hassan was part of a legal team representing an accused who allegedly sold guns to gangsters. No arrests were made for his killing.
- The Western Cape’s Crime Intelligence division became embroiled in the court aspect of the matter, with a court ordering its head to see to it that the lawyer of an accused handed over leaked confidential documents to the State by June 9, 2017. It was not immediately clear if this happened.
- High-ranking Western Cape policeman Jeremy Vearey, who was instrumental in the investigation, in May told News24 that police and crime intelligence officers were conspiring with politicians and gangsters in an ongoing attempt to derail critical investigations. While Vearey did not detail which investigations, News24 understands the firearms matter is one of these.
- In June 2016 Vearey and another top policeman deeply involved in the guns investigation were suddenly shifted from their positions within the police.
These events are said to have derailed the investigation as a team probing the matter fragmented and focus was diverted.
Back on track
News24 understands, however, that the team has since reassembled with the sole task of probing the gun smuggling matter.
Members are also no longer stationed where they were before.
It is understood they were recently moved to work with the Hawks.
Western Cape Hawks spokesperson Captain Lloyd Ramovha confirmed this, telling News24 last week: "The matter is with us."
The court case aspect of the mammoth gun smuggling investigation is now also back in focus - the Western Cape’s head detective has until the end of Monday, July 31, to hand over 3 028 dockets to the prosecution team in the matter.
This was ordered by the Western Cape High Court in May.
News24 understands the 3 028 dockets are linked to stolen guns and are for murders, attempted murders and illegal firearm possession.
National police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo said because the last date of compliance on the court order, being July 31, had not yet lapsed, he was not prepared to comment on whether the dockets had been provided to the prosecution.
"In view of the fact that the matter is still pending SAPS will not discuss the matter of compliance thereof in the public domain at this point in time," he said.
Guns to gangs court case
High profile arrests in the investigation so far include that of Rondebosch businessman Irshaad "Hunter" Laher, Vereeniging arms dealer Alan Raves, and ex-police colonel Chris Prinsloo, who has since been convicted.
They are linked to the alleged selling of firearms, meant to have been destroyed by police, to gangsters around the Western Cape.
In June 2016, Prinsloo was sentenced to 18 years behind bars after entering a plea and sentence agreement with the State.
Prinsloo was in charge of the police armoury and stole 2 400 guns over almost a decade.
These weapons had to be kept locked in sealed steel boxes at the confiscated firearms store in Silverton, Gauteng, before being destroyed.
According to an amended indictment, Laher allegedly offered Prinsloo R2m in exchange for stolen firearms and ammunition that were meant to be destroyed.
Raves, a Gauteng arms dealer, was arrested in Vereeniging in August 2015 and was charged in Bellville.
It is understood the State believes Raves started working with Prinsloo in 2007.
Laher and Raves, who missed previous court appearances due to health problems, are expected back in the Western Cape High Court in September.
Vearey and Major-General Peter Jacobs were previously instrumental in the investigation.
In June 2016, Vearey, who was deputy provincial commissioner for detective services, was suddenly shifted to a position he had previously filled - commander of the Cape Town cluster of police stations. Jacobs, who headed the province's crime intelligence unit, was appointed Wynberg cluster commander.
They have taken on police management in the Cape Town Labour Court over this.
1 066 murders and counting
Jacobs, in an affidavit in the labour court matter, said 888 of 2 000 firearms Prinsloo supplied, were forensically connected to 1 066 murders.
This was for the period between 2010 and May 31, 2016.
News24 understands that many firearms stolen from the police are yet to be located.
One source said it was believed 28s gang members in Cape Town were in possession of several of these.
Gang shootings have recently surged in several parts of Cape Town, including in gang hot spot Bishop Lavis, about 18km from the city centre and a 28s stronghold.