On Friday, 5 December 2014, the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS), General Riah Phiyega, joined a special task team of members of Crime Intelligence and detectives investigating the involvement of the police in distributing illegal cigarettes.
The operation to arrest the 19 officers, which consisted of six warrant officers and 13 constables, started at 4:00 this morning.
“We have been working on this for nearly two years, gathering credible evidence against these officers. They were allegedly involved in escorting vehicles carrying illegal cigarettes from Zimbabwe in exchange for money. We obtained warrants of arrest for all 19 officers,” said General Phiyega.
She was speaking to the media at the Morebeng Police Station (formerly known as Soekmekaar), where nine of the 19 police officers were arrested.
Possible charges the officers could face include corruption, defeating the ends of justice and money laundering. The Finance Intelligence Centre has also been incorporated into the investigation.
The officers, nine of them from Morebeng,six from Maleboho, three stationed at Makhado and an officer attached to the Botlokwa Police Station thought their eyes were deceiving them when their own colleagues handcuffed them in full view of the National Commissioner on Friday.
The arrested members demanded bribes from people smuggling illegal cigarettes into the country. After receiving the bribes, instead of arresting the suspects, the police escorted the vehicle carrying illicit cigarettes, ensuring the suspects evaded arrest by other law-enforcement officers.
General Phiyega said that the police would stop at nothing in their efforts to root out corruption in the SAPS. She said that South Africa deserved to be served by professional, law-abiding police officers whose mandate it was to create a safe and secure country for all.
“We have said in the past and we say it again that police officers are not above the law. We are the custodian of law and order and we cannot afford to fail the people who rely on us for safety and security. There is no room for corrupt police officers in a democratic South Africa and we will intensify our intelligence-led operations to ensure all police officers with criminal mindsets are removed from the Service,” said General Phiyega.
More arrests cannot be ruled out. The arrested suspects have been suspended from the SAPS without remuneration and will appear before various magistrates’ courts on Monday.