Failed case against Breytenbach ‘a new low’

2013-05-28 00:00

THE National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) reached its lowest point with the unfounded prosecution of advocate Glynnis Breytenbach and in the process violated its own value system.

This was the opinion of advocate Jan Henning SC, former deputy head of the NPA, after a disciplinary hearing in Pretoria yesterday found Breytenbach, a suspended NPA senior prosecutor, not guilty on all 15 charges against her.

“The guilt of the employee on this plethora of charges has not been established,” said the hearing’s chair Selby Mbenenge SC.

It was yet another setback for the NPA, which has been criticised in the past two months for losing what seemed to be strong cases against the likes of Robert McBride and J. Arthur Brown, as well as the handling of the police officers charged with the murder of protester Andries Tatane.

Henning said he and several other former managers of the once-proud NPA were ashamed of how the authority had tried to “crush” Breytenbach because she showed integrity.

Advocate Vusi Pikoli, former head of the NPA, said he never doubted Breytenbach’s innocence. He said she was an excellent prosecutor whose judgment he had fully trusted. Pikoli added that it was a sad day when the NPA prosecuted its own employees, whose job it was to uphold the law without fear or favour.

Pikoli said there were also many questions surrounding the NPA leaders’ decisions not to prosecute in cases in which political influence played a role.

He said this trend now governed the NPA and had undermined the public’s trust in an institution that was supposed to be absolutely independent according to the Constitution.

The NPA has been effectively leaderless since December 2011, when President Jacob Zuma’s appointment of advocate Menzi Simelane was ruled invalid.

Upon hearing the not guilty verdict, a visibly emotional Breytenbach hugged her lawyer, Gerhard Wagenaar.

In a statement read by Wagenaar, Breytenbach said she would return to her post as the head of the specialised commercial crimes unit in Gauteng.

“I am relieved that the chairperson saw the lack of justification in the charges laid against me,” she said.

She added she would continue with all the cases she was busy with before her suspension on April 30 last year.

These include prosecuting the former police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli on fraud and other charges, and Julius Malema.

She claimed she was suspended by National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba to stop her from prosecuting Mdluli. She thanked everyone who stood by her during the “humiliating disciplinary hearing”.

The NPA’s main charge against Breytenbach was that she failed to act impartially when investigating the Kumba Iron Ore/Sishen and Imperial Crown Trading mining rights issue, and that she had “improper relations” with Sishen’s lawyer Mike Hellens.

Other charges included Breytenbach “surreptitiously leaking” NPA inside information to sister paper Beeld’s journalist Sonja Carstens; giving her official NPA laptop to her lawyer; and “maligning” the NPA in the media.

Mbenenge said there was “not an iota of evidence” that Breytenbach had improperly attempted to obtain a confession from a Mr Luhlabo by conspiring with Hellens and Nazeer Cassim SC to do so.

“I do not, therefore, see my way clear in finding the employee guilty of misconduct on count one.”

Mbenenge found there was no evidence to contradict Breytenbach’s argument that she was always in control of the case and had remained objective.

Wagenaar said they were still considering whether to review or appeal the arbitration hearing decision on the issue.

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