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South Africa’s fight against corruption weakened by disbanding of police unit

Berlin/Johannesburg 07 May, 2008 -Transparency International (TI) is gravely concerned about news confirming the disbanding of the Directorate of Special Operations, South Africa’s independent police unit dedicated to fighting corruption and organised crime known as the Scorpions.

“With this decision, South Africa undermines its anti-corruption advances and stalls progress made towards building a strong national system of integrity”, said Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director of TI. “The Scorpions unit and the crimes it could stop should not fall victim to political battles. The unit’s successful track record of investigating and prosecuting should speak for itself.”

The chain of events leading to the disbanding of the Scorpions unit was initiated by an African National Congress (ANC) party National Executive Council (NEC) meeting resolution issued in December. This is troubling given that some NEC members were under investigation by the Scorpions. In this context, the disbanding deals a serious blow to the integrity of the ruling ANC party, the Cabinet and the government of South Africa.

“We urge President Mbeki, the Cabinet, Parliament and all South Africans to stand up for the fight against corruption by defending the continuity of the Scorpions unit. It is disturbing that in spite of having excelled at delivering on corruption challenges the unit is being dissolved at the prime of its performance,” said Danny Titus, Chair of TI South Africa.

The Scorpions, which will now be folded into the South African Police Services, has been an outstanding independent investigative unit in Africa and globally since beginning operations in 2001. The Scorpions’ skills and commitment have led to conviction rates of up to 93 per cent, yet South African President Thabo Mbeki has now approved its disbanding. Scorpions head, Leonard McCarthy, was appointed Monday to head the World Bank’s Department of Institutional Integrity, the institution’s anti-corruption arm.