Military intelligence, frozen funds and 5 000 guns: Details of national firearms probe
Cape Town - Police investigators paired up with SA National Defence Force (SANDF) generals to gather intelligence on how guns were stolen from military bases and then sold as part of a mammoth countrywide firearms investigation.
Details of the probe, as well as the impact more than a thousand stolen guns had on the public, are contained in documents submitted in the Cape Town Labour Court.
Two top Western Cape police officers previously involved in the investigation - Major-General Jeremy Vearey, who was deputy provincial commissioner for detective services, and Major-General Peter Jacobs, who headed the province's crime intelligence unit - were in June 2016 suddenly transferred from these posts.
They found this unfair and turned to the Cape Town Labour Court, which on Thursday set aside their transfers.
A report on the firearms investigation - named Project Impi, by Vearey, and dated September 13, 2016 - details the probe.
5 000 guns
The report said he and Jacobs had initiated Project Impi in December 2013 after the police ballistics unit in the Western Cape "detected a unique signature" in the way some guns used in gang violence were altered.
"The investigation team, under supervision of Maj General Veary [sic] seized and took control of approximately 5 000 firearms from the Gauteng Firearm stores… these firearms were to be 'illegally' destroyed and then sold to Cape Town gangs."
Vearey's report said that, between 2010 and 2016, at least 1 666 murders, 1 403 attempted murders and 315 other crimes were committed with guns stolen from the police.
It said that, in 2015, it was discovered that SANDF firearms meant to destruction, as well as heritage guns, were being illegally sold by police.
He and Jacobs consulted with SANDF generals.
"This resulted in the allocation of military intelligence support to Operation Impi," the report said.
Another court document said: "It was further discovered that certain persons are in possession of fully automatic military rifles which are licensed (suspiciously). There are indications that these people belong to Rightwing groups and an urgent need to investigate this exist."
The report by Vearey said further investigation was still needed into several areas: The illegal import and export of firearms; the theft of guns from military bases; the reactivation of dismantled firearms; and the unlawful manufacturing of firearms using stolen gun components.
Under a section headed "Challenges", the report said Lieutenant-Colonel Clive Ontong, who was also leading the probe into the firearms, had reported that his provincial investigating team had been reduced to four detectives.
In a sworn statement, Ontong said Vearey had approached him in December 2013 about the influx of guns into the Western Cape.
He said, on September 9, 2016, he applied to go to Gauteng to get a witness placed under protection as part of the investigations.
"I was told by Lt Col Geldenhuys from the provincial finance office that Project Impi was not renewed and he would not make funds available. I thus could not go to Gauteng."
The scale of the impact the stolen guns had was hinted at in the court papers - 261 children in the Western Cape were shot with guns stolen from police.
A list of them is attached to Vearey's court papers.
The children were shot in areas including Belhar, Bishop Lavis, Delft, Elsies River, Manenberg and Lentegeur.
These areas are known gang hot spots.
According to the list, in 2011 a 1-year-old boy was wounded in Bishop Lavis, which is currently one of the Western Cape's most volatile areas in terms of gang violence.
While most children on the list are named, some are simply listed as "unknown".
A source with intimate knowledge of the gang situation in the province told News24 it was suspected that many of the approximately 1 200 stolen police guns which were unaccounted for were now with 28s gang members.
The 28s gang has a stronghold in areas like Bishop Lavis.
10 things you should know about the national gun smuggling investigation
Cape Town - A gun smuggling investigation, which many sources say is the biggest ever in South Africa, has revealed how stolen police and military firearms were channelled to gangsters, and out of the country.
Here are 10 things, based on court documents, you should know about the mammoth probe:
1. In 2013, police officers in Cape Town noticed firearms, meant to be with police, were in circulation illegally in the Western Cape. Police ballistic experts found each gun had its identification number filed off in the exact same way. It was suspected that one person was altering the guns.
2. The investigation into gun smuggling, named Project Impi, was then launched in December 2013 in the Western Cape by police officers Major-General Jeremy Vearey and Major-General Peter Jacobs. It went on to become a national investigation, which included probing the import and export of illicit firearms.
3. It is back in focus because on Thursday the Cape Town Labour Court found in favour of Vearey and Jacobs, who felt their sudden transfers from their positions within the police in June 2016 were unfair and politically motivated, which police denied. The court set their transfers, which they believe jeopardised the investigation, aside.
4. Vearey and Jacobs say that, instead of allocating more resources to the investigation, police did the opposite.
5. Arrests so far include that of ex-police colonel Chris Prinsloo, now serving a jail sentence, who previously said he had sold at least 2 000 firearms to Rondebosch businessman Irshaad "Hunter" Laher, who allegedly paid him to steal guns meant for destruction.
Laher and Vereeniging arms dealer Alan Raves are the accused in a case linked to the alleged selling of firearms, meant to have been destroyed by police, to gangsters around the Western Cape.
6. Some 1 066 murders were committed with the stolen police guns. 261 children in the Western Cape were shot between 2010 and 2016 with guns identified in the Project Impi investigation.
7. Crime Intelligence officers, specialist gang investigation detectives, and designated firearm officers, formed part of the investigation. The SA National Defence Force was involved in Project Impi, as it emerged that guns were stolen from military bases and were being distributed.
8. Aside from police smuggling guns to gangsters, Project Impi uncovered that illicit firearms were being smuggled out of South Africa. It also focused on, among others, certain firearm dealers and police at the Central Firearm Registry.
9. Right wing groups were also in focus, as Project Impi uncovered that these groups could be stockpiling firearms to be used against the state.
10. Police investigators, including Vearey, were worried about the SA Police Service being held criminally liable for crimes committed with the stolen police firearms.
‘Those guns are going to be used on your head’ - News24 journalist threatened for national firearms probe stories
Cape Town - A News24 journalist has received an anonymous SMS threatening that guns that were smuggled to cops will be used on her, either at her workplace or home.
Investigative journalist Caryn Dolley, who since Thursday has written numerous articles on a mammoth national gun smuggling operation, received the threat on her cellphone at 17.15 on Friday.
It says: “Ms doley!That. same. guns. that. the. cops. sold. is. going. to. be. used. on. your. head. at. work. or. your. house. or. your. mom. house. and. your. dog.”
The SMS appears to come from a web-based number.
Dolley is set to lodge a criminal complaint with police over the SMS.
In May Dolley received a threatening email from an alleged underworld businessman in relation to a meeting he had with a top Northern Cape police officer in a hotel in Cape Town.
News24 editor Adriaan Basson said the threats levelled at Dolley were outrageous and disgusting.
"Caryn has been at the forefront of exposing how the underworld operates and how their poisonous tentacles stretch into the law enforcement agencies.
"We will not be bullied by these cowardice acts of intimidation that has only one goal: to shut us up. The illegal gun trade must be exposed to the bone. These death threats will not deter us from doing our jobs."
From Thursday this week Dolley wrote numerous stories on a national gun smuggling investigation, based on documents from the Cape Town Labour Court and a matter focusing on Major-General Jeremy Vearey and Major-General Peter Jacobs.
The duo, instrumental in the mammoth firearms probe, approached the court after they were suddenly transferred from their positions in June 2016.
On Thursday the court set aside their transfers.
Dolley wrote articles based on, among other papers submitted to the court, their affidavits, including how they believed politics within the police led to their transfers, which effectively crippled critical investigations.
These investigations included looking into how cops smuggled police guns to gangsters, illicit firearms being smuggled into and out of South Africa, and right wing groups apparently stockpiling firearms to be used against the state.