The investigation into how a highly restricted cellphone “grabber” came into the possession of normal citizens is a sensitive matter, the Hawks said on Friday.
These are surveillance machines that can access bank transactions and jam cellphone network signals, and are usually only used by security agencies.
“With this case there is not much I can reveal because it is sensitive,” spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said.
“These grabbers are regulated by law. No one in this country can have them without the permission of the president. They are used for the intercepting of information for intelligence purposes.”
The device, reportedly worth more than R25m, was seized by the state on 31 July at Irene Village Mall in Centurion, with three men arrested.
According to a report in The Star newspaper on Thursday, the machine was manufactured in Israel and brought into the country in pieces to avoid suspicion.
It was apparently bought using a fraudulently acquired letter of authority from the South African government and was paid for by money from a private trust owned by a local businessman, but managed by an attorney based in the Free State.
The custom-made device can bug up to 10 000 cellphone lines in real time and find a person’s location using their cellphone, among other functions.
Mulaudzi said police have arrested many people with cellphone jammers, but it was “disturbing” to see such large, sophisticated jamming devices inside South Africa’s borders.
“How they get into the country, we aren’t sure. There are ways and means,” he said.
“Now it means as security agencies, to make sure we look into these matters seriously. You will find that people are using the device to compromise the security of the state, and to get people’s information. They are made overseas.”
He said it was a high priority matter for the state, as the devices could be used to destabilise the country.
It was crucial those who were involved in the proliferation of the grabber be found.
“The country must be very worried. In terms of what we are doing, we are trying to make sure we deal with the matter,” Mulaudzi said. — News24