South Africa

South Africa

Judge Zak Yacoob’s big adventure: unravelling the tight knot of corruption at the NPA

Judge Zak Yacoob’s big adventure: unravelling the tight knot of corruption at the NPA

Retired Constitutional Court Judge, Zak Yacoob, might find that navigating a clear path through the subterfuge and intrigue that has plagued the NPA over the past few years might be a lot like hacking through thick Amazonian undergrowth. But one thing is clear: much of the rot can be traced back to former police commissioner Jackie’s Selebi’s tenure and attempts to help him escape justice. Last week, as the NPA undertook to charge Lawrence Mrwebi, former head of the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit, Prince Mokotedi, head of the Integrity Management Unit resigned. MARIANNE THAMM tracks some of the convoluted back-story.

When Retired Constitutional Court Judge Zak Yacoob embarks on his inquiry into the shambolic state of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) he will find that a host of familiar old names once connected to former police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, will feature in a never-ending story with countless plot holes and loads of smoke and mirrors.

Judge Yacoob will probably need much more than three months to unravel the tightly tangled knot that has seen the NPA fraught with factional infighting of Shakespearean proportions and that has rendered it, in some instances, totally paralysed. Like long-term soap opera stars, several key players in the drama that has unfolded over the past few years have found themselves back in the headlines during the past week.

At the weekend, former “spy boss”, Mulangi Mphego, made a startling revelation in The Sunday Independent that the infamous “Zuma spy tapes” – which former acting head of National Prosecutions, Mokotedi Mpshe, used to validate the dropping corruption charges against President Jacob Zuma – had not originated from within “crime intelligence”.

Mphego, some might recall, was forced to resign in 2009 after interfering with a witness (Glenn Agliotti) in the Jackie Selebi investigation. Mphego was succeeded by Richard Mdluli, who was subsequently suspended on various criminal charges, even as concerted attempts to reinstate him took place between 2011 and 2012. In the end, it was Advocate Lawrence Mrwebi who ensured the withdrawal of charges against Mdluli who, at the time, was being investigated by Glynnis Breytenbach. Breytenbach, as we all know, was illegally shafted in 2012, but won her case in the labour court. She eventually resigned to join the DA where her prospects are no doubt rosier than in the viper’s den of the NPA.

In September 2013, Freedom Under Law successfully applied to the North Gauteng High Court to have the charges against Mdluli reinstated. Judge John Murphy found that Mrwebi’s decision to withdraw them had been unlawful and irrational.

Last week the NPA announced that Mrwebi will now be charged for his role in another matter involving a colleague and friend, Terrence Joubert, head of the NPA’s security and risk management in KwaZulu-Natal. Mrwebi allegedly interfered with an investigation into Joubert’s dealings with a R20 million irregular security tender. That he survived this long in the NPA is a testament to the extraordinary adaptability of those who have found themselves, so far, “on the right side” of whichever dominant faction is in control.

And it is into this hornets’ nest that current head, Mxolisi Nxasana, was dropped before he was informed by the president last week that he was about to be suspended. Nxasana is rumoured to have been ready to reinstate charges against Mdluli. Nxasana replaced Nomgcobo Jiba, who had been acting head of the NDP for 18 months.

Meanwhile, one of the most dramatic possible interpretations of Mphego’s claim at the weekend that the “spy tapes” used to get No 1 off the hook had not originated with Crime Intelligence, is that the tapes were then obtained illegally and thus could not have been entered as evidence that a “political conspiracy” had driven the charges against Zuma. The DA is bringing a case against the NPA on 15 August and the new information will prove critical in the party’s attempts at proving that the decision to withdraw the corruption charges was irrational and illegal.

Another name that resurfaced last week was that of forensic investigator Paul O’ Sullivan, who played a considerable role in securing Selebi’s conviction on charges of corruption. After his resignation last week the NPA’s former head of the Integrity Management Unit, Prince Mokotedi, again suggested in a radio interview that the investigator had been a “a spy who had infiltrated the NPA”.

It’s an old allegation used constantly during the investigation into Selebi’s corrupt activities to discredit O’Sullivan. As Rian Malan noted in the pages of the Maverick magazine many years ago, why would an undercover agent make himself so publicly visible and to what end? Of course what is lost in all of Mokotedi’s noise and thunder is the fact that the country’s former police chief and head of Interpol was found to be corrupt, that he knowingly fraternised with underworld figures and drug dealers and that he has been sentenced to 15 years in jail for this. That Selebi is serving this sentence from the comfort of his home while he owes the taxpayer around R40 million in legal fees is yet another shameful outcome of political string pulling.

Last week The New Age reported that “highly placed sources” in the NPA had confirmed that Selebi’s family and legal team “have laid a complaint of misconduct with the NPA, alleging that the prosecution did not reveal the evidence it had during the trial”. The main target once again is Gerrie Nel, currently chief prosecutor in the Oscar Pistorius trial, as well as “other investigators.”

The Selebi family, The New Age claimed, also alleges that O’Sullivan had been paid a R15,000 “bribe” by the NPA “for him to assist and nail him [Selebi]”. The paltry sum was in fact reimbursement for a witness who needed urgent protection.

Nel was falsely arrested in 2008, on the orders of Mdluli, Mphego, Jiba and Mrwebi, just days before Jackie Selebi filed an urgent application in the Pretoria High Court to have all charges against him withdrawn. Earlier Selebi had used sworn statements by both Mrwebi and Mokotedi – revealing the details of a Scorpions management meeting in 2007 – to try to quash a warrant for his own arrest. Mrwebi said he had given the statement to NIA agent Arthur Fraser, who subsequently used it to try to prove that the Scorpions were being politically “used” to hound Selebi.

In October 2012, two years after Selebi’s sentencing, O’Sullivan filed formal charges of Defeating the Ends of Justice and Perjury against 11 individuals. All these, he reckoned had, one way or another, been linked to the investigation into the former police chief. His complaint has thus far been ignored.

In his complaint O’Sullivan listed his “suspects” with Advocate Lawrence Mrwebi as his main accused, followed by Nomgcobo Jiba (former acting head of NPA), Richard Mdluli, Prince Mokotedi, Mulangi Mphego, Arthur Fraser (a national intelligence official), Manala Manzini (technical head of the NIA), Leonard McCarthy (former Scorpions head), Bulelani Ngcuka (former Director of Public Prosecutions), Brigitte Mabandla (former Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development) as well as former president Thabo Mbeki.

At the time O’Sullivan’s statement read: “I am listing Lawrence Mrwebi as the ‘Main Accused’ as he is the person who has caused the most havoc and continues to unlawfully interfere in criminal cases for and on behalf of his political masters.”

Perhaps Judge Yacoob will, in the course of his investigation, have a cup of tea with O’Sullivan and peruse his extensive files relating to this as well as other criminal matters.

O’Sullivan’s complaint relates, in part, to an affidavit that formed the main argument in Selebi’s application to have charges dropped. Mrwebi had perjured himself in the High Court, said O’Sullivan, when under cross examination by Gerrie Nel, Mrwebi had denied that he had willingly provided the statement – which formed part of a “top secret” investigation – to Selebi’s lawyers. Selebi, however, later let slip in court that he had obtained the statement directly from Mrwebi.

“Mrwebi was not the only person to come to the aid of an extremely corrupt Chief of Police. It is no coincidence that Mrwebi and Prince Mokatedi arrived to give evidence together and that Mokatedi followed Mrwebi, by less than five minutes, in the witness stand to help Selebi avoid the unavoidable,” O’Sullivan wrote in his statement.

O’Sullivan’s original statement also offers some insight into how the illegal “Zuma tapes” were obtained. He writes that in September 2007, after Vusi Pikoli had been suspended by Mbeki, “Selebi and his accomplices (including Mdluli) held a meeting to consider matters. It was considered a risk that rogue elements within the DSO, would simply ignore the suspension of the NDPP and execute the search and arrest warrants they had obtained against Selebi. This was something that neither Selebi, nor Mbeki could afford, but for differing reasons.”

It was during this meeting, said O’Sullivan, that “a decision was taken to fabricate a case against Gerrie Nel. The purpose for the fabrication of this case was so that they (they being Mdluli and Mphego) could obtain a wiretap warrant.”

O’Sullivan says the wiretap warrant was duly obtained and that the unlawful eavesdropping of the phone of Scorpions head, Leonard McCarthy (among others), began.

“As previously stated, the intention was to make sure that none of the suspended NDPP’s colleagues would move forward and arrest Selebi. But a completely unexpected result of this illegal wiretap was that, apart from ensuring that McCarthy would not move ahead and have Selebi arrested, the eavesdroppers picked up some tit-bits that might be of some (political) use at some future moment in time. What they effectively got, was McCarthy, being dictated to by the erstwhile NDPP, Bulelani Ngcuka.

“From the tone and inflection in the calls, as well as the content, it was evident that Ngcuka was still very close to the then President of the Republic, Thabo Mbeki and that all the stops were being pulled out, in an attempt at (unlawfully) hastening the prosecution of Jacob Zuma, on various charges… ”

The illegal wiretaps first saw light of day, says O’Sullivan, when Mdluli delivered these to Jiba for use in the Labour court and next emerged when they were delivered to Michael Hulley, who acted for Jacob Zuma.

“It was clear therefore that Jiba would want to return the favour to Mdluli. This was done, by illegally preventing Mdluli’s prosecution. Mrwebi, was simply another piece of the apparatus in getting Mdluli off the hook, and he gladly went along with it, as he had conspired with Mdluli in the past and knew that there would be further (criminal) quid pro quos down the line. Accordingly Mrwebi, not only got Mdluli off the hook on very serious charges of plundering the secret Crime Intelligence account, he made the letting-off final, by sending a letter to Mdluli’s lawyers,” wrote O’Sullivan.

Of course, sitting silently at the centre of all of this drama is President Jacob Zuma, No 1, who has been the main beneficiary of the behind-the-scenes work of Mdluli and Jiba in particular who “stumbled upon” evidence that enabled the President to fight off corruption charges.

Judge Yacoob has an unenviable task ahead of him but at least it is something. The stench from the controversy and corruption in the NPA now permeates so much of the body politic.

Effective crime intelligence is crucial in combating crime, particularly organised crime – bear in mind Radovan Krejcir arrived in South Africa on a false passport on the watch of all officials named above. It is while crime intelligence operatives are busy dancing to the tune of political masters the real threat to ordinary South Africans grows increasingly urgent. Perhaps it might be best, at the end of it all, for Judge Yacoob to recommend that we burn down the building (metaphorically of course) and start all over again. DM

Photo: Retired Constitutional Court Judge, Zak Yacoob (A frame grab)


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