AFU's Willie Hofmeyr sidelined
Cape Town - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on Monday said it plans to make the Asset Forfeiture Unit answer to provincial directors of prosecution, because it had been acting independently of regional authorities.
"The regional asset forfeiture units had become completely dislocated from the directors of public prosecution in the provinces," said NPA communications manager Bulelwa Makeke.
"They reported directly to Mr (Willie) Hofmeyr", the head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), she said.
"In other words, there was some form of disconnect because the main mandate of the NPA is prosecutions. Asset forfeiture is incidental to prosecution. Mr Hofmeyr is not a prosecutor," Makeke added.
"Obviously, this becomes an issue of consideration if the DPPs (directors of public prosecution) don't have knowledge of what is happening with the Asset Forfeiture Unit.
"It cannot be correct that a DPP is responsible and accountable for a prosecution in his/her area, but not be responsible and accountable for a consequent and important process of asset forfeiture. A management decision to exclude them from this area has been reversed."
The National Director of Public Prosecutions, Menzi Simelane, came under fire after he unveiled a five-year strategic plan for the NPA last week, which commentators said sought to weaken its specialised units, including the AFU, and centralise power in his office.
Media reports have quoted NPA insiders as saying the move would tie up the unit up in red tape and hamper its ability to conduct sensitive investigations.
The Institute for Security Studies described the plan as an "attempt to hollow out the capacity" of the unit.
Makeke denied reports that the restructuring of the NPA amounted to a demotion for Hofmeyr or that he was informed of the changes in a mobile text message.
"Mr Hofmeyr is a deputy NDPP and forms part of the NPA executive committee. This committee forms the decision making body of the NPA and have discussed the NPA strategy and the structural changes. It therefore follows that Mr Hofmeyr would have been part of the deliberations that informed the final strategy," she said.
Makeke said Hofmeyr would act as a co-ordinator of the unit and as a special adviser to Simelane.
This is the same status the strategic plan envisions for the heads of three other specialised units in the NPA - the specialised commercial crime unit, the priority crimes litigation unit and the sexual offences unit.
Democratic Alliance justice spokesperson Dene Smuts said the strategic plan smacked of an attempt "to cut off the head" of the AFU and the other specialised units and to undermine their independence.
"His (Simelane's) proposals fly in the face of the NPA Act and the presidential proclamations."Systematic ruination
Smuts said that while he served as director general of justice, Simelane was patently exasperated by the degree of independence with which the NPA operated under its former boss Vusi Pikoli, who was fired.
His strategic plan appeared to be "the systematic ruination of an authority built up by Pikoli" and constituted a crisis for the NPA, Smuts said.
The plan needs to be approved by Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who is expected to appear before Parliament's portfolio committee this week.
It was unveiled shortly after it emerged that Simelane had asked Hofmeyr to choose between his job at the AFU and that as head of the special investigations unit (SIU) probing corruption and maladministration.
The plan tabled by Simelane states that all investigators seconded from the AFU to the SIU must return to their original jobs.
Makeke declined to say how many investigators that would leave the graft-busting unit, which reports to the presidency.
The NPA said Hofmeyr had not yet communicated a decision on which of his posts he would resign.
Hofmeyr was abroad and not available to comment.