The Mail & Guardian newspaper reports proposals for the establishment of a judicial commission of inquiry into private-sector spying are at an advanced stage in the office of Justice Minister Jeff Radebe
The paper says it understands the commission would investigate the conduct of private investigative firms and the influence they have on the South African justice system, and more specifically allegations of phone-tapping that go back to the late 1990s.
The proposals are informed in part by a dossier provided to the minister that includes the statements and affidavits of former employees of Investec and the Associate Intelligence Network (AIN), now called the Specialised Services Group (SSG). The allegations, mainly from individuals who say they have fallen foul of the bank, claim that Investec has been knowingly involved in the gathering of illegal intelligence on some people using AIN/SSG. Both Investec and SSG have denied any wrongdoing.
Justice department spokesman Tlali Tlali told the M&G that “the matter is currently under consideration”. “The minister [Radebe] has indicated that he has not yet approached the president, but that is the route that will be followed. The president will then either sign it or decline to sign it,” Tlali said. If approved, the commission could form the nucleus of South Africa’s own “phone-hacking” scandal involving private security companies conducting surveillance, in this case on behalf of corporate clients not including media companies.
There is anecdotal evidence that the practice is rife in the security industry as a whole. It is not known whether the government wants an inquiry into illegal surveillance generally or whether it merely wants to restrict it to state-controlled agencies. Nevertheless, SSG chief executive Warren Goldblatt told the M&G that he and his firm would welcome a probe with open arms. “We would love a commission of inquiry because then we can answer the questions in a proper forum. The company is only involved in activities that are legal. We have broken no laws or tapped any phones unlawfully,” Goldblatt said. “In the fullness of time, the truth will be revealed. I am more than satisfied to answer these questions.
“I have had it with these shenanigans… [being pursued] for financial gain. You will see who the real criminals are. We are a victim at a time when investigation services in the state are under extreme pressure.”
Investec, in a response to questions by the M&G, said it was not the bank’s “policy to spy on clients, nor does the bank condone activities that violate the constitutional rights of individuals. Any investigative work required by Investec from time to time is done in accordance with the law.” Investec said that it had “no knowledge” of proposals regarding a commission of inquiry. “If such a commission is convened and Investec is requested to make submissions, we will fulfil our lawful obligations.”