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22 March 2018 23:42 (South Africa)

The Age of Abrahams: As the Guptas fled SA, investigating team went on holiday

  • Marianne Thamm
    Marianne Thamm
  • World
Photo: NPA head Shaun Abrahams (EPA)

If NPA head Shaun Abrahams and acting Hawks boss Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata were a Facebook couple they’d describe their relationship as “it’s complicated”. Both appeared before a joint sitting of Parliament’s justice and police portfolio committees on Wednesday to explain Matakata’s comments to the police committee last week that the NPA had hindered the process of taking the Estina/Vrede State Capture matter to court. Abrahams denied everything ... obviously. By MARIANNE THAMM.

The thing about embattled NPA head Shaun Abrahams is that when he isn’t MIA, another of his highly successful obfuscatory talents is to unpack, in a hypnotic monotone, the smallest of technical and bureaucratic details with the hope that the listener’s head will either explode, will be so swamped they will leave even more confused, or, at worst, doze off.

Abrahams appeared before a joint sitting of Parliament’s justice and police portfolio committees on Wednesday to answer to a comment by DPCI head Yolisa Matakata, at a previous police committee meeting, that while the Hawks had already had the Estina/Vrede State Capture docket in November 2017, the go-ahead to make arrests had only been given in February 2018.

By then, of course, the December flight of the Guptas had already taken place. The turkeys had flown the coop, evading border posts placed on high alert, leaving on a private jet-plane to Dubai, Zurich and Switzerland – way out of reach of the withered arm of the SA law.

On Wednesday Abrahams admitted the investigative team had gone on holiday in December, a matter DA police committee member Dianne Kohler Barnard said was unacceptable considering the serious nature of State Capture. She also said ordinary law enforcement agencies in South Africa worked in December, possibly their busiest month in the year.

You put it aside for the festive season? SAPS members work every day. It is foreign to this committee that you would sail off on holiday while such a crucial matter is on the front pages of all the newspapers,” said Kohler Barnard.

She said suspects had left the country at more or less the same time that the docket had been handed over.

They needed time to load suitcases on planes, to gather up and move. There was someone there who was telling them.”

DA justice committee member Glynnis Breytenbach reminded Abrahams that arrest warrants could be issued in special circumstances if suspects posed a serious flight risk.

These people are prime suspects. The Guptas, Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane. They are widely known to have considerable assets abroad, homes abroad, private planes, and travel frequently. If they are not considered special cases and a flight risk then in my 26 years as a prosecutor I do not know what was. These are the types of people you would most certainly arrest. You would post huge bail. It is bizarre... nothing was done to prevent them from travelling. They are all gone.”

Besides, she said, the “Gupta dairy project” had been exposed in the media in 2013 and while the information had been in the public domain, nothing was done.

It was also noteworthy that the NPA had not acted until after the ANC’s elective conference in December when Cyril Ramaphosa had been elected and only then did the authority and the Hawks spring into action.

Abrahams denied that the Estina/Vrede probe had been delayed, telling the committee that there had been outstanding financial analysis. He said prosecutors had been unhappy with regards to the prima facie evidence at the time.

At the start of the meeting on Wednesday Abrahams had been keen to dispel any notion that there might be conflict or disagreement between himself and Matakata and the investigating teams.

We communicate and meet regularly. Even after hours and on weekends. It is a relationship that will continue. It is regrettable that she [Matakata] made some utterances, she was incorrectly advised. The issues could easily have been rectified outside of a public forum,” said Abrahams.

The NPA head then proceeded to make a detailed presentation – the investigating teams had had 24 formal meetings, had opened 19 dockets/ inquiries, had conducted seven forensic/investigation reports, had issued 373 Section 205 subpoenas had drafted assistance to eight countries and had engaged with authorities in seven of those countries).... zzzzzzz.

Only problem was that Matakata – after Abrahams’s lengthy input, which ANC police committee member Leonard Ramatlakane later described as an “ambush presentation” – told the committee she could not respond to it as Abrahams had not shared it with her before the meeting.

(At this stage Abrahams and Matakata would be the Facebook couple who continuously post blissfully happy photographs on their timeline only to suddenly announce they have split up.)

Abrahams hadn’t shared his presentation with anyone, in fact, which prevented committee members from interrogating it. Ramatlakhane later requested a copy to peruse at his leisure.

The NPA head defended the length of time it was taking to bring State Capture suspects to court, telling the committee that “cases of this nature are extremely complex and, like the arms deal, might take several years. We identified 17 cases with asset forfeiture potential to the collective value of R50-billion to date. To date the Asset Forfeiture Unit has obtained two preservation orders worth R1.2-billion in relation to McKinsey and R228 million with regard to Estina”.

A strange feature of both Abrahams’ and Matakata’s presentations is that neither of them at any stage mentioned members of the Gupta family, referring to them consistently as “foreign nationals”.

The DA’s Werner Horn reminded Abrahams and Matakata that the Estina case, which has been postponed to August 2018, did not happen in a vacuum.

It happened as part of a political and government system where politics are involved. What we still need to know is where did the money ultimately go and how was all of this facilitated by politicians?”

The EFF’s Sibonakaliso Mhlongo said it had taken the FBI from 1972 to 1974 – after the Watergate scandal – to get former US president Richard Nixon to resign while South African citizens had sat helplessly for 10 years as “the nation was raped standing by three members of the Gupta family” who were also presently “holding” organs of the state.

Matakata told the committee that the DPCI would be breaking the law if they had arrested the “foreign nationals” or flagged them with other departments without a warrant; even though “those from foreign countries” were being monitored.

Abrahams said that the NPA intended to apply for the extradition of the “foreign nationals” but only with regard to the Estina/Vrede case.

Lead investigator Advocate Malini Govender, of the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit, told the committee that that decision not to sign off on the final warrants had been a collective one between the investigators and prosecutors on the team.

Abrahams denied that the NPA made “selective prosecutions” but could not explain why lower-ranking officials had been arrested and not politicians implicated.

Nobody against whom there is a prima facie case will be left off the hook,” said Abrahams.

Pushed by Ramatlakane to reveal more, Abrahams responded: “I cannot go further than I have, otherwise I would be divulging critical information. I don’t think it is proper for would-be suspects or accused persons or the public for me to sit here while the whole country is watching, listing what is outstanding. It flies in the face of the proper administration of justice. It would mean the accused would be peeping over the shoulders of the prosecution,” said the NPA head.

The committees adjourned with joint chair Motshekga suggesting that the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Michael Masutha, former minister of police, Fikile Mbalula, as well as current Minister of Police Bheki Cele be summoned to explain.

We need to get people at the top to explain what happened,” said Motshekga. DM

Photo: NPA head Shaun Abrahams (EPA)

  • Marianne Thamm
    Marianne Thamm
  • World

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