Fidentia: How sick is the NPA?

2013-05-19 10:00

It would be reckless to walk away from the Fidentia case and not thoroughly investigate what went wrong.

We are not questioning Judge Anton Veldhuizen’s ruling or sentence, but rather the poor handling of a complex commercial trial by the state that – literally – took bread out of the mouths of widows and children.

Something big is wrong in the state of justice when, after six years and millions of rands spent on forensic investigations and expensive lawyers, the state was only able to successfully prosecute J Arthur Brown on two (out of 192) counts and secure a R150 000 fine as a “sentence”.

Has the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) finally lost the ability to prosecute complex fraud and corruption cases?

The NPA, the cornerstone of our criminal justice system, has been under severe pressure for the past decade.

This has been caused by a combination of political interference, weak leadership and lucrative salaries paid by the private legal industry, which lures away our top legal minds.

It is a common belief that you can get away with murder in the lower courts if your pockets are deep enough to hire the flashiest silks in town.

The Fidentia case has done nothing to dispel the notion that South Africans are not all equal before the law.

What happens when people lose faith in the criminal justice system?

The emergence of kangaroo courts, where communities take the law into their own hands because they just don’t trust the police and the NPA; the perception that South Africa is a friendly environment for sophisticated international syndicates to operate in and out of without the risk of being caught; and a lawless society where rogue white-collar traders run wild, knowing they won’t be punished for stealing money from the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said a new head of the NPA would be appointed by the end of February. We are still waiting.

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