Businessman Keith Keating, whose office is about 20 minutes’ drive from the Union Buildings in Pretoria, holds the keys to the engine room of SA’s criminal justice system.

After parliament had earlier accused Keating, the CEO of Forensic Data Analysts (FDA), of "holding the country to ransom", court papers lodged on behalf of the police last week stated that SA’s criminal courts could "grind to a halt" if Keating’s companies — which are contracted to the police — refuse to play ball.

FDA provides the police and the State Information Technology Agency (Sita) with infrastructure that includes firearm-permit and property-control systems as well as crime-exhibit management. The systems allow the police to track firearms and obtain access to clues needed for investigations, among other functions.

The police brought the application before the high court in Gauteng to ensure that FDA did not cut off its services, saying also that it had not been able to identify an alternative service provider and would have to capture data manually for as long as the services were down.

Keating says his prolonged standoff with the police — by whom he was employed — is "mind-blowing".

He tells the Financial Mail he was conscripted into the police in terms of national service requirements. "We didn’t have a choice those days." Before leaving his post as a police employee in 1994, he was responsible for supply-chain management systems, criminal record systems and stolen vehicle procedures.

"My duties had nothing to do with forensic equipment, forensic systems and firearm permit systems," he says, referring to the services that FDA now provides to the force.

After leaving the police, Keating started sourcing IT solutions from overseas, which he customised for the SA market — "mostly the police, national intelligence and that type of thing". That led him to form FDA in 2005.

FDA became the sole supplier of critical systems to the police and Sita, and was bought by JSE-listed EOH in December 2015, along with Keating’s Grid Control Technologies and Investigative Software Solutions. However, EOH unwound the transaction last year as the companies had missed targets. Allegations that FDA had corrupt contracts with the state sped up the sale-back, EOH management said.

"The heartbreaking thing about all of this is that we’re probably the only SA company that has invested in our own laboratories and our own training facilities, and which is completely BEE compliant, with 47% black ownership ... So we’ve done everything right."

Parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) are not so sure. They recommended that Sita and the police stop making payments to FDA and its associate companies after allegations emerged that FDA’s contracts with the state were irregular.

As the outcome of an Ipid investigation has been pending, Sita and the police have not paid FDA since November. From 2005 until that point, Keating’s companies had been paid R1.2bn by the state, court papers show.

Fighting back, Keating disabled FDA’s systems at midnight on April 4. Scopa said the next day it was "shocked and disappointed" that one man could "hold the country to ransom by having the power to switch off the criminal justice system".

Keating planned to approach the high court this week to request outstanding payments. Otherwise, he says, the police must cease using his software.

He says his companies have switched their services back on, but says "things were definitely tough" for the police and Sita in the interim, though "they won’t admit it".

Keating has slammed the state’s handling of the situation, saying his companies should be paid for their services while the investigation is ongoing.

"It’s now been eight months since the allegations first surfaced, and [the investigators] still have not put a single piece of evidence on the table. Do you honestly want to tell me after they’ve raided my offices, after they’ve done everything they’ve done, that they still cannot say to me ‘here is an irregularity’ or ‘here is the corruption’?" he asks.

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