One woman vs the NPA

2013-01-20 10:00

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Anti-graft prosecutor Breytenbach determined to prove her innocence in high-stakes battle.

It was a week of stares and glares as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) pulled out the stops to show why top anti-graft prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach is unfit for her job.

Breytenbach is fighting back, ferociously.

Her facial expressions during the testimony of the NPA’s two main witnesses against her said it all: she is not about to give up easily.

During the evidence of mining lawyer Ronnie Mendelow and the head of the NPA’s specialised commercial crimes unit (SCCU), Lawrence Mrwebi, Breytenbach, who sat about a metre away from the witnesses, looked them straight in the eye.

Her facial expressions went from dare to disgust. She shook her head, smiled in disbelief and wrote frantic notes to her advocate Wim Trengove SC.

Breytenbach is a career prosecutor of almost 30 years. She is not only defending the charges against her, but also her track record.

As head of the SCCU in Pretoria, she has been prosecuting and jailing white-collar criminals for years.

Her reputation is one of a seasoned, fearless lawyer who takes no prisoners. At times she can be a “bully”, Trengove admitted this week.

The NPA is taking aim at exactly these traits by accusing her of being biased in her approach to possibly one of the country’s biggest mining frauds ever.

But the stakes are even higher than Breytenbach’s career: at the heart of the cases relevant to her suspension is the new elite around President Jacob Zuma and his family.

If she had her way, Zuma’s associates, the Gupta family and embattled crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli, would be in her shoes – those of the accused.

Breytenbach was officially suspended for her role in the Hawks’ investigation against Imperial Crown Trading (ICT), a shadowy mining company that came from nowhere to win a lucrative 21% stake in the Sishen iron ore mine.

ICT has powerful political connections.

The company’s directors include Gugu Mtshali, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s partner; Archie Luhlabo, the former director of the Mineworkers’ Investment Company; and Jagdish Parekh, head of the Gupta family’s investment businesses.

Zuma’s son, Duduzane, is a business partner of the Guptas and owns a number of companies with their youngest son, Tony.

Parekh has denied reports that he holds the shares in ICT on behalf of the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma.

The 21% mining right became available in 2009 when ArcelorMittal failed to reapply for it.

Both Kumba Iron Ore and ICT applied for the right and it was subsequently awarded to ICT by the department of mineral resources (DMR).

Kumba laid fraud charges against ICT when it emerged ICT’s application was a badly forged copy of Kumba’s.

In reply, ICT claimed that their original application was tampered with to make it look like a forged document.

Kumba’s complaint landed on Breytenbach’s desk and she assisted the Hawks in raiding the offices of ICT and the DMR.

Subsequent to that, the DMR laid a criminal complaint against Kumba for post-dating their application four days before it was officially due to have been received.

Mendelow is ICT’s lawyer and complained to former NPA boss Menzi Simelane that Breytenbach was focusing exclusively on the complaint against his client, while she should also have investigated Kumba.

Mendelow also complained about the closeness of the relationship between Breytenbach and advocate Mike Hellens SC, acting on behalf of Kumba.

Hellens assisted the Hawks in drafting affidavits for the raids on ICT and the DMR.

Trengove fiercely opposed the suggestion that Breytenbach was biased in her approach and said it was common practice for the legal representatives of complainants to assist the state.

He will argue this week, when the hearing resumes, that the true reason for Breytenbach’s suspension was her insistence that Mdluli be prosecuted for fraud.

Mrwebi, her boss, testified on Friday that the case had nothing to do with Mdluli’s matter and that Breytenbach insulted his “intelligence and integrity” to suggest he was protecting Mdluli.

Fireworks can be expected when Trengove continues his cross-examination of Mrwebi on Tuesday.

Mrwebi was a surprise witness, as he was the main driver behind the dropping of charges against Mdluli – something which Trengove is expected to explore in depth.

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