Investigations: The Hawks are probing various issues involving Steinhoff, which collapsed in December 2017 amid allegations of fraud and the loss of billions of investor rands. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER © SUNDAY TIMES
Investigations: The Hawks are probing various issues involving Steinhoff, which collapsed in December 2017 amid allegations of fraud and the loss of billions of investor rands. Picture: ESA ALEXANDER © SUNDAY TIMES

The Hawks, SA’s elite crime-fighting unit tasked with tackling high-profile cases, is so weak it is struggling to deal with serious commercial crimes, its own boss conceded on Wednesday.

The Hawks are currently dealing with high-profile cases such as the Steinhoff saga and the VBS Mutual Bank matter. They are also leading the investigation into state capture.

Hawks boss Godfrey Lebeya admitted in parliament on Wednesday that the organisation did not have sufficient capacity to deal with some of the cases. He said the unit has had to look outside for assistance.

Lebeya was briefing parliament’s police committee on high-profile cases.

He told MPs the organisation did not have enough personnel with financial or forensic investigative skills, forcing the unit to engage auditing firms. He said the Hawks had advertised various such positions as part of the unit’s restructuring.

Steinhoff

As the Steinhoff matter unfolded, the group itself appointed financial services firm PwC to carry out an independent investigation.

PwC has assembled a team of more than 60 people globally to probe allegations of accounting irregularities involving retailer Steinhoff, which has more than 700 individual entities operating in 30 different jurisdictions across the world.

The Hawks are investigating various matters relating to Steinhoff involving fraud, misrepresentation and the loss of billions of rand for investors.

Investigations by PwC so far had uncovered the overstatement of income and assets at the retailer.

Lebeya said while suspects were yet to be named, the Hawks had a good idea who they were. At the centre of the saga is former CEO Markus Jooste, one of the senior executives who was at the helm of the global furniture retailer ahead of its collapse in December 2017.

In the VBS matter, Lebeya said there were five cases and at least three suspects. According to initial investigations, about R311m went missing from the troubled bank.

Lebeya said the Hawks were working with Interpol and there would be no "holy cows" in the state-capture investigations.

Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, said it was clear the Hawks did not have the capacity to tackle all investigations. He said the organisation had suffered from "bad appointments and loss of skilled personnel under [former Hawks head] Berning Ntlemeza".

"So it’s not just commercial crimes investigations which will be compromised … Lebeya is a wonderful appointment … he is qualified and understands what needs to be done. However, he has a lot of cleaning up to do and it will not happen overnight."

phakathib@businesslive.co.za