Zuma urged to save crime units

2010-05-12 22:46

Cape Town - The Democratic Alliance on Wednesday urged President Jacob Zuma to undo far-reaching changes at the specialised prosecuting unit on commercial crimes after its director was sidelined.

DA justice spokesperson Dene Smuts pointed out that special directorates of prosecution were created by presidential proclamation, meaning they may not be altered without Zuma's blessing.

She claimed that precisely this has happened since National Director of Public Prosections Menzi Simelane recently removed the head of the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit (SCCU) from office.

Advocate Chris Jordaan is reliably understood to have been redeployed and the highly successful unit, with a conviction rate of 93.7% at last count, divided into two offices.

"The SCCU's head and its 200 staff members were recruited and appointed to specific positions in the special directorate because of their skills.

"You (Zuma) would have to revoke the presidential proclamations before they can be demoted or redeployed."

Units' independence curtailed

The changes have been implemented since February, two months before Simelane briefed Parliament about a strategic plan which envisioned restructuring four specialised prosecution units, including the SCCU and the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

The plan sparked outrage as it would curtail the independence of the units and integrate them into provincial structures.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe claimed he had been kept in the dark, and after a meeting with Simelane on April 29, said he had ordered the plan put on hold.

Smuts said at the time the SCCU's fate was already sealed.

"Why was no-one told that while the honourable minister was meeting Advocate Simelane, the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit had already been disbanded despite its spectacular success rate?"

Too good for the ANC?

She said it seemed the government has assured the administrative independence of South Africa's courts with the final draft of the Superior Courts Bill, but in cynical counter-step set about undermining the prosecuting authorities.

"The fragmentation and resulting neutralisation of the prosecutorial authority seems to be a crude quid pro quo for the establishment of institutionally independent courts."

She said independence before the law would be a dead letter if Zuma allowed Simelane to close down the country's best corruption fighting units.

"It is an act so irrational that we have to ask if the SCCU is just too good for the ANC and its cronies' comfort.

"It looks like a way of giving friends immunity from prosecution."