The ties that bind

2013-06-03 10:00

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The Glynnis Breytenbach case has links to President Jacob Zuma and his associates, writes Adriaan Basson

Three ties link ­President Jacob ­Zuma to the high-profile acquittal of senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach at her ­disciplinary hearing this week.

They are Richard Mdluli, Booker Nhantsi and the Gupta family.

They may explain why Breytenbach’s disciplinary hearing – an internal dispute between employer and employee – received such an inordinate amount of publicity and attention over the past year.

The public interest in the case was never just about the 15 failed charges levelled against her by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), but goes to the heart of the NPA’s independence from political interference.

When City Press and Media24 newspapers decided to challenge Breytenbach’s hearing being held behind closed doors last year, we didn’t expect that it would bring about a Rubicon Moment for the NPA.

By reviewing Advocate Selby Mbenenge’s ruling in Breytenbach’s favour, the NPA is now facing the real spectre of having a court of law confirming that one of its most senior and loyal prosecutors was victimised for doing the right thing.

Of course the NPA and its acting head, Nomgcobo Jiba, are within their rights to review Mbenenge’s ruling in court, but at what price?

Reeling from recent embarrassing rulings in the Andries Tatane, Fidentia and Robert McBride cases, shouldn’t the NPA’s first priority be to hang on to their best? Going after Breytenbach, who has an impeccable record of 25 years’ service in the NPA, seems desperate, to say the least.

Three private advocates, ­including a silk, prosecuted Breytenbach and still they could not prove one of the 15 charges levelled against her. Why is the NPA fighting this one so hard?

Could it be because of the links to Number One? Is Breytenbach seen as an obstacle in the way of an NPA free from cases against Zuma and those close to him?

A file in the Johannesburg ­Labour Court from January 2009 – three months before Zuma was let off the hook after providing the NPA with spy tapes – links Mdluli to Jiba’s own fate.

Jiba herself was once in Breytenbach’s shoes, having been suspended from the NPA in 2008 for allegedly assisting the police in arresting top prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

At the time Nel was leading the investigation into former police chief Jackie Selebi. Why was Jiba willing to assist the police?

According to her charge sheet, she blamed Nel for the conviction of her husband, Booker Nhantsi, a former member of the Scorpions.

Nhantsi previously worked as an attorney and in 2003 stole trust funds totalling R193 000. In 2005 he was convicted of theft in the Mthatha High Court and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

Jiba challenged her suspension in court and turned to Mdluli, who was then the deputy head of police in Gauteng, for help.

He provided her with an affidavit, ­revealing his own role in having Nel arrested, and attached transcripts of intercepted conversations between former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and the unit’s head of investigations, Thanda Mngwengwe.

In the transcripts, the two ­discuss the Nel case.

The transcripts had a striking resemblance to the ones leaked to Zuma and his lawyer, Michael Hulley, at about the same time.

Zuma is still refusing to say who leaked him the tapes, and there is no other evidence ­besides Mdluli’s affidavit to show where the recording may have come from.

Jiba lost her first attempt to halt her disciplinary hearing and returned to the courts. But by now Zuma was president of the country and Jeff Radebe his justice minister.

After making ­representations to Radebe, who passed it on to Menzi Simelane (his director-general at the time), Jiba was reinstated and the charges against her dropped.

Jiba owed Mdluli one.

Almost a year after she ­returned to the NPA, in September 2010, Zuma expunged the criminal record of Nhantsi, Jiba’s husband, in the “public interest”.

Mac Maharaj said Zuma was convinced it was in the “public interest” to pardon him, and that Nhantsi was a “qualified and skilled individual who can make a contribution to society”.

Jiba owed Zuma one.

Fast-forward two years. Jiba is ­acting NPA head, and Breytenbach is chasing Mdluli and Imperial Crown Trading (ICT).

Mdluli has written to Zuma in ­November 2011 that he would “assist the president to succeed next year” – referring to the ANC’s Mangaung conference.

Breytenbach’s efforts to have Mdluli prosecuted are thwarted by Lawrence Mrwebi, the head of commercial crimes prosecutions in the NPA, who overrules her and drops the case.

Shortly after Breytenbach provides Jiba with a memorandum motivating why Mdluli’s charges should be reinstated, she is suspended on unrelated complaints levelled against her by ICT.

ICT is owned by a group of politically connected Northern Cape businessmen, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s romantic partner and, for the period March 2010 to October 2012, businessman Jagdish Parekh, who headed up the Gupta family’s investment vehicle, Oakbay Investments.

Parekh’s Pragat Investments, which owned 50% of ICT, has the same address as JIC Mining, another Gupta company partly owned by Zuma’s son Duduzane and Rajesh Gupta.

Parekh was at the centre of the Guptas’ budding business empire, into which Duduzane Zuma was adopted after his father ­became ANC president in ­December 2007. Parekh has ­stated under oath that the shares in Pragat were all his.

ICT is being accused of fraudulently obtaining a 21% mining right in the Sishen iron ore mine.

Breytenbach was also handling this case and ICT’s lawyers complained about her actions.

This week, Breytenbach was convincingly cleared of these charges. But the effect of her suspension has been that neither the Mdluli case, nor the ICT ­investigation has progressed much since she was paid to sit at home since May last year.

The NPA, supposed to prosecute without fear, favour or prejudice, has now chosen a legal route that could see justice being delayed in these cases for a few more years.

Would it be unreasonable to ask if that was the plan all along?

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