The blurred line between the police and organised crime: Mandy Wiener discusses her new book, Ministry of Crime: An Underworld Explored
More about the book!
Mandy Wiener chatted to The Reading List about her explosive new book, Ministry of Crime: An Underworld Explored.
As a follow up to the bestselling Killing Kebble: An Underworld Exposed (2010), Ministry of Crime examines how organised crime, gangsters and powerful political figures have been able to capture the law enforcement authorities and agencies.
The book is out now from Pan Macmillan!
The Reading List: Thank you for agreeing to an interview, Mandy, and congratulations on the new book. It’s a humdinger.
Mandy Wiener: Thank you so much.
The Reading List: Headlines have been coming in thick and fast since Ministry of Crime was released, relating to new facts you’ve revealed about people like former Gauteng Hawks head Shadrack Sibiya or the late underworld figure George Louca. While you’re researching and writing a book like this, how do you decide what is news that needs to be released immediately, and what to reveal in the book?
Mandy Wiener: It’s a constant challenge, to be honest, because I am by nature a hard news reporter that loves breaking news. I have a fairly good sense what is more urgent and what would do better in the context of a book. If information comes out of an exclusive interview that I have done, then I would usually hang onto it for the book, but if it’s a story that breaks, like a hit or a court case, then there is no waiting around.
The Reading List: The research you must have done from this book is incredible. Did most of it come from personal interactions and interviews, or did you look at archives, records, places like that as well?
Mandy Wiener: I lived the events in the book and reported on most of them for EWN so I had most of the information already, but I also did a fortune of sit down interviews with people. Nearly two dozen, I think, and they were a mine of information. People gave me documents and then pointed me in the right direction, so I did look a lot at sworn affidavits, confidential reports and court transcripts. I tried to use a little bit of everything to weave together the tapestry of the narrative.
The Reading List: Lines like ‘[Radovan] Krejcir completed a four-year degree in Economics in Ostrava before going into business, although some believe he studied Engineering’ show how difficult even the simplest facts must have been to pin down. Did you develop any strategies to deal with this kind of thing?
Mandy Wiener: Every single fact had to be checked and double checked because there are so many competing agendas and most of these characters are opaque. Some of it is myth, some of it is fact, so I tried to be clear in the book where I couldn’t be sure of something. In some places, facts had been assumed, but when I scratched a little deeper, it turned out to be nonsense. It’s very difficult terrain to navigate but I am inherently cynical so I think that helped.
The Reading List: You quote Czech TV journalist Jiří Hynek as saying Krejcir moved to South Africa from the Seychelles because it was ‘a bigger market’, and you describe South Africa in 2007 as an ‘an appetising option’ for a ‘shadowy character’. Could you talk a bit about how Krejcir’s decision to move to South Africa says something about the state of the country or its reputation?
Mandy Wiener: It’s important to keep in mind the context of the country when Krejcir moved to South Africa in 2007. Jackie Selebi, the former National Police Commissioner, was accused of being in a corrupt relationship with Glenn Agliotti. Agliotti confessed to the corruption and testified in court and then got off without being prosecuted. The Kebble shooters publicly admitted to shooting him dead and then they were granted immunity from prosecution. Krejcir would have looked at this situation and would have seen what was possible with money, power and influence. The country was ripe for the pickings and the criminal justice system was in the early stages of being broken. He saw massive opportunity. He told journalists outside court once that he moved to SA because of our amazing criminal justice system. The irony.
The Reading List: Forensic investigator Chad Thomas shares a lot of detail about Krejcir’s early days in South Africa, and Hynek a lot about his life back in the Czech Republic. How do you get people like that to talk without being fearful of the consequences?
Mandy Wiener: I have built up relationships with people over the past few years as a reporter, so they know me and what I am doing and what my agenda is. There are no surprises. Also, they like the opportunity to air their views and enjoy the platform, I think. Reputation is also a big thing, so it helps when I phone up a security industry kingpin and ask for an interview. He knows I will be fair and give him an opportunity to get his view across.
The Reading List: Do you ever worry about your own safety?
Mandy Wiener: Not at all. I try and be as fair as possible and always ensure that all the characters know what is coming.
The Reading List: ‘You can give a cop R2 and he will be happy. Their minds aren’t working.’ This quote from former crime intelligence head Joe Mabasa said reminded me of Paul McNally’s book The Street: Exposing A World Of Cops, Bribes And Drug Dealers, which theorises that corruption in the police stems from an ‘us-versus-them’ mentality and lack of respect that exists between the police and South African society, as well as a ‘level of moral inconsistency at a high level’, which gives licence to the officers on the street to do the same. What are your thoughts on the causes of South Africa’s endemic police corruption?
Mandy Wiener: I try and examine this in the book to a degree and I think it is such a complex issue. It’s so endemic, so systemic, that there is so much that drives in. Greed, status, culture. The Street is an excellent deep dive into the problem and I read it while I was writing my book and it definitely aided in my understanding of police corruption. I think a lot of it has to do with the despair that police officers feel and the complacency and apathy. If others are doing it, why can’t I? What is the point of being clean and trying to bring down criminals if they will get off anyway because the system is broken? I wish I knew the answer to this question.
The Reading List: South African organised crime differs from what a lot of people may think is true from the movies, in that being a ‘snitch’ is not a problem; criminals are informing on everyone all the time in order to protect themselves from the law. What kind of ‘code’ does South Africa’s underworld have, if any?
Mandy Wiener: There is such a grey line in South Africa between the criminal underworld and the police that it has become pretty normal to transcend it. It’s all so opaque. So many of the ‘bad guys’ are working for the police, passing on intelligence and informing on other criminals. As a result, they receive protection from the authorities and aren’t prosecuted. It’s more of an ‘every man for himself’ situation than a kind of agreed omerta between criminals. Also, so many cops are working for criminal syndicates that it makes the line even blurrier.
The Reading List: You said you felt ‘bulletproof’ the first time you met Krejcir, because, in part, you were riding on the success of your book Killing Kebble six months before, but you did feel apprehensive. Can you talk a bit about your first impressions of Krejcir? Did these impressions change over time?
Mandy Wiener: Krejcir was consistently charming. He’s a charismatic guy with a colourful personality. He has a presence about him and that’s magnetic. He was always extremely friendly and polite to me, but that’s not surprising. But I was never under any illusion as to what he was accused of. The allegations were significant and serious and of course I had to be wary.
The Reading List: You quote maverick forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan as saying: ‘If Crime Intelligence was shut down, crime would reduce, because we would be disempowering a lot of criminals.’ Do you agree?
Mandy Wiener: I don’t believe Crime Intelligence should be shut down. It serves a crucial purpose and is an integral part of fighting crime. It needs to be completely overhauled, cleaned up and made effective. There is no way police could fight complex organised crime if there is no intelligence – it’s half a the battle really. But there needs to be really strict measures in place to keep oversight over the slush fund and over who sources are and the entire source system needs to be revisited.
The Reading List: At the end of the book you say ‘the cycle is repeating itself again’, with the rise of underworld player Nafiz Modack in Cape Town. Where do you see South Africa’s Ministry of Crime going over the next few years?
Mandy Wiener: If the SAPS isn’t fixed, corruption rooted out and Crime Intelligence sanitised, then the entire cycle will repeat itself again. Modack is accusing Mark Lifman of using the police against him. Lifman is accusing Modack of using the police against him. The police shouldn’t be working at the behest of different factions. The police needs to be feared and be strong enough to uphold the law. The entire criminal justice also needs to be fixed from the NPA, to the courts to the police and that takes leadership and commitment. If it doesn’t happen, criminals will keep getting away with crime.