Simelane forced to backtrack
Cape Town - National prosecutions chief Menzi Simelane has been forced to climb down after he restructured the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit (SCCU) despite orders to halt the process, the Democratic Alliance said on Thursday.
DA justice spokesperson Dene Smuts said the head of the unit Chris Jordaan had been put back in charge after it was confirmed earlier this week that he had been sidelined by Simelane.
The national director of public prosecutions' orders that the unit's 200-strong staff report to the relevant provincial prosecuting authority, instead of to Jordaan, had been reversed.
"All SCCU prosecutors have been told to report again to their head, special director Chris Jordaan and not to the provincial divisions," said Smuts.
She had put sustained pressure on Justice Minister Jeff Radebe not to allow Simelane to implement a controversial five-year strategic plan for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) presented to Parliament in April.
It envisioned that all four specialised units in the NPA would be restructured in this fashion.
The plan was perceived as an attempt to weaken the powers of the units, in particular the high-profile Asset Forfeiture Unit headed by Willie Hofmeyr. Radebe claimed he had been kept in the dark, and at a meeting with Simelane on April 29 told him to consign the plan to the deepfreeze.
However it emerged this week that the commercial crimes unit had been split in two, embarrassing the minister who had publicly stated that the four units remain "intact".
Justice spokesperson Tlali Tlali on Thursday reiterated that Radebe's instructions stood, and applied to the successful SCCU with its conviction rate of more than 93% as well.
"A clear message came from the minister and we would not expect anyone to conduct themselves in a manner that they appear to disregard the minister's instructions in this regard," he said.
"We have an interactive relationship with the NPA and if it appears that what has been agreed, may not be the reality, we will come across it."
President Jacob Zuma also broached the subject on Thursday, confirming that any restructuring at the NPA would only happen once the delivery agreement of the justice and security cluster had been finalised.
"The Justice Crime Peace and Security cluster is in the process of negotiating its delivery agreement," he said in his reply to the debate on the presidency's budget vote.
"Any possible restructuring of the NPA has been deferred pending the finalisation of what the cluster must first conclude."
Smuts had during the debate reminded Zuma that the specialised crime fighting units had been appointed by presidential proclamation, arguing that they could therefore not be disbanded without his consent.
Responding to this, Zuma said: "Let me assure the Honourable Smuts that we will put the interests of the country and the Constitution first in going about this very important task of ensuring that justice is dispensed fairly, impartially and effectively."
Tlali said it was not clear whether there was a need to restructure the NPA or any of its components.
He said it would only be considered once Radebe and the rest of the cluster, which he chairs, had agreed on how to achieve the eight crime-and corruption-fighting goals set out in its performance contract with the president.
"We cannot even say at this stage that restructuring is going to take place. We have to look at what we have on the ground and see whether this matches our needs to achieve the agreed outcomes."
The opposition and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu had urged Zuma to revoke Simelane's appointment, citing the Ginwala Commission's sharp criticism of the former director general of justice.
In her findings, former speaker Frene Ginwala said it seemed that Simelane had tried to interfere in the NPA decision to arrest ex-top cop Jackie Selebi for corruption.