By Tileni Mongudhi | 18 April 2016
Last year, the drug law enforcement unit was all but disbanded, with only the commander, Hermias van Zyl, and a handful of officers being kept on. This followed allegations of turf wars and corruption within the unit.
In 2014, the Windhoek drug enforcement chief was held on suspicion of stealing drugs stored as court exhibits, although charges against him were later withdrawn.
Namibia is beset by a growing influx of cocaine, crack cocaine and Mandrax.
Police destroyed N$2 million worth of seized drugs last week, but junior officers charge that users and small fish are the ones hauled in while the big players in the trade go scot−free.
Insiders said some of the unit members who survived the 2015 purge have been compromised by bribes or excessively close relationships with suspected drug lords.
At the centre of the latest storm is Van Zyl, the head of the national drug law enforcement unit and a deputy commissioner, who is under investigation over claims that he made a highly irregular arrangement with a suspected dealer, allowing him to sell cocaine.
Commissioner Nicolas Endjala, Van Zyl&s immediate supervisor until January this year, confirmed that he has forwarded the case to the police&s Internal Investigations Directorate because he was not satisfied with his subordinate&s explanations.
The prosecutor general (PG) has also raised concerns.
Police documents in The Namibian&s possession indicate that the PG&s office has asked police on two separate occasions to explain Van Zyl&s role in the matter, and whether he obtained permission from his superiors to act in the manner that he did.
Van Zyl told The Namibian that he would only respond to the allegations against him through the police public relations division.
Questions were sent to the police public relations department and police Inspector General Sebastian Ndeitunga in early March.
Although they confirmed receipt, they have not responded.
The first indications of systemic problems in drug law−enforcement came when the former boss of the Windhoek unit, chief inspector Freddie Basson, was arrested in January 2014 on suspicion of stealing drugs, cash and other items from the exhibits& vault.
It was alleged that he alone had the key to the vault − although police sources said Basson insisted Van Zyl also had access.
Charges against Basson were provisionally dropped.
Van Zyl&s relationship with the suspected dealer, Hendrick Scholtz, came to light when the latter was arrested allegedly with 390g of cocaine with a street value of N$212 000 in his possession in Windhoek in 2012.
Scholtz insisted that he was selling cocaine with the deputy commissioner&s consent and under his supervision, court and police documents reveal.
Van Zyl is said to have contacted the arresting officials to confirm that he was indeed working with Scholtz, but his junior colleagues were sceptical of his explanation, and arrested Scholtz nevertheless.
Police documents seen by The Namibian state that Scholtz had earlier been a drug mule and courier between Colombia and South Africa for several years, and that he stopped transporting drugs after being arrested in The Netherlands.
Scholtz is also known as a club manager in Windhoek. He, however, told The Namibian on Friday that he now runs a restaurant.
Scholtz declined to comment and expressed willingness to talk to The Namibian in the presence of his lawyer who was not available before going to print.
Commissioner Endjala told The Namibian that Van Zyl&s statement was not convincing and had holes. He said he instructed investigators to ask his deputy to clarify his statement.
In addition, Van Zyl&s version of events is in conflict with other statements made to police, including that of inspector Robert du Plessis, commander of the Gobabis drug law enforcement unit.
Van Zyl claims that at the time of Scholtz&s arrest he was using him as an informant and agent to crack down on a Colombian drug syndicate trying to infiltrate Namibia and flood the country with cocaine.
In a 10−page statement, he says he allowed Scholtz to sell the cocaine to establish his credentials as a smuggler because government did not have the money to buy drugs.
He also claims the Colombians told Scholtz that another 1,2kg shipment of cocaine would soon be smuggled into Namibia, followed by a further 25kg, and that he did not want to act against them over the 390g because he planned to make the arrest when the larger quantity was smuggled in.
Police sources said the 25kg was allegedly going to be smuggled into Namibia through Senegal and Angola, and that a portion of it was destined for Cape Town.
However, a statement by Du Plessis tells a different story.
He says Scholtz told him the syndicate was Nigerian, and that the initial consignment was to be 79g, not 390g. He confirmed that he and Van Zyl met Scholtz on 8 January 2012 at Arebbusch Travel Lodge, where the alleged dealer spoke about the consignment.
Van Zyl said Scholtz received cocaine from Nigerians, and that he was going to sell it to a certain Pieter Sutasor Peter Shutas.
&I said that we must find money and buy the cocaine in order for the drugs not to reach the street&, Du Plessis said.
Van Zyl said Scholtz must find his own buyer to establish credibility with the Nigerians, for if they question him, he can give them a dealer&s name. I told him to try and get the money from HQ (police headquarters) or the Special Branch (police intelligence).
The two officers were unaware that Peter Shutas was working as an informant for a junior officer in the drug enforcement unit.
Scholtz was arrested after Shutas confirmed that he was now in possession of the drugs.
Police insiders alleged that Van Zyl failed to provide paperwork or other evidence confirming that Scholtz was on police books as an informant or undercover agent.
Van Zyl claimed that he gave the paperwork to Du Plessis for safekeeping because he did not trust his Windhoek colleagues.
Further questions arise from Scholtz&s statement when he informed the investigating officer in the case that he received the cocaine from Van Zyl, rather than from Colombians or Nigerians. Basson also made a sworn statement in which he said Scholtz told him that he (Scholtz) received the cocaine from Van Zyl.
Police sources told The Namibian that the cocaine found in Scholtz&s possession could have originated from the police exhibits& vault.
Scholtz&s drug trafficking case was struck off the court roll in October last year after the prosecution failed to obtain a decision from the prosecutor general on whether to proceed with it.
But Basson says in his statement that a warrant of arrest was pending against the alleged dealer at the time of his arrest in Namibia in another drug−related case.
He said the case could not be pursued because Scholz&s co−accused fled to South Africa, and police were unable to apprehend him.
− This story was produced by The Namibian&s investigative unit in association with the Amabhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism.