Arthur Fraser. Picture: BUSINESS DAY
Arthur Fraser. Picture: BUSINESS DAY

President Cyril Ramaphosa has defended his decision to move controversial former spy boss Arthur Fraser to a powerful new post at correctional services – on the basis that he did so to avoid a "constitutional crisis".

That crisis, he says, was caused after the Inspector-General of Intelligence, Setlhomamaru Dintwe, took Fraser, then director-general of the State Security Agency (SSA), to court for revoking his security clearance. Dintwe argues that Fraser had done so in an unlawful bid to block him from probing "prima facie" evidence of wrongdoing against him.

Court documents have revealed that Dintwe is currently investigating whether Fraser was "party to the establishment of an intelligence gathering unit outside the provisions of the statute that governs intelligence gathering".

Allegations of Fraser’s "shadow security agency" rose to prominence following the publication of investigative reporter Jacques Pauw’s bestseller, The President’s Keepers.

Dintwe has since confirmed that three cabinet ministers formally complained about unlawful surveillance and bugging of their personal phones during Fraser’s leadership of the SSA.

Fraser denies allegations

Fraser has denied all allegations levelled against him by Dintwe, and in turn accused him of unlawfully disclosing classified information. Fraser said that he had revoked Dintwe’s security clearance to protect SA’s national security.

Ramaphosa’s lawyers, in court documents filed on Wednesday, suggested that the president did not take the Dintwe investigation particularly seriously, seeing it as a "rerevisiting of old allegations that had been investigated and finalised before Mr Fraser was appointed as director-general of the SSA".

They said that Fraser had been appointed to his post in September 2016, "without legal challenge from any person or entity".

Ramaphosa’s legal team were providing reasons for his decision to transfer Fraser to the Department of Correctional Services in response to a case launched by the DA, which has attacked both the rationality and legality of Ramaphosa’s decision to move Fraser.

In Ramaphosa’s written reasons, the president sought to downplay any suggestion that he moved the spy boss because of claims made against him. Instead, Ramaphosa’s lawyers have laid responsibility for the decision to move Fraser at the door of State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba.

Ramaphosa said about a month after her appointment, Letsatsi-Duba had informed him that the SSA was not functioning as effectively as it should and proposed that an independent panel should be established to identify problem areas and make recommendations.

"The minister informed the president that she was of the view that Mr Fraser would have to be transferred out of the SSA before the panel could begin its work. Her view was that Mr Fraser’s strong personality would not be conducive to the investigation of the panel."

Ramaphosa’s lawyers say he agreed with Letsatsi-Duba, but did not immediately move Fraser as "it was not pressing for him to do so, as the process of establishing the panel had not been finalised".

Then, on April 5, Fraser revoked Dintwe’s clearance. This, according to Ramaphosa’s lawyers, resulted in a potential "constitutional crisis".

"As a result of the constitutional crisis that had arisen, the president decided to expedite the minister’s recommendation that Mr Fraser be transferred out of the SSA. He believed that with Mr Fraser out of the SSA the inspector-general could resume his investigation and the SSA could investigate the veracity of Mr Fraser’s allegations against him."