Breytenbach: ICT claims about Sishen Iron Ore fraud ‘seemed unlikely’

2013-02-06 18:08

Senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach has told her NPA disciplinary hearing that the criminal complaint against Sishen Iron Ore, at the core of charges against her, “seemed unlikely”.

Breytenbach today took to the witness stand for her first day of testimony in the NPA’s disciplinary case against her.

The charges that she abused her position as a prosecutor relate largely to the criminal investigation of the mining rights dispute between politically connected ICT and Sishen Iron Ore Company.

Part of the complaint against Breytenbach was that she allowed Advocate Mike Hellens, who was representing Sishen, an inordinate degree of control over the case and that she was biased towards Sishen because she had known Hellens for 25 years.

But asked by her advocate, Wim Trengove, if she had ever taken “her foot off the pedal” when going up against Hellens in this time, Breytenbach said, “I don’t like losing, particularly not to Hellens.”

“If anybody were to suggest the edge is taken off your prosecutorial independence when Hellens is on the other side, would there be any truth in that?” asked Trengove.

“None at all,” responded Breytenbach.

She testified that she had held a meeting with Sishen representatives, who she described as “preppy”, and informed them that they could assist in the investigation, but that the NPA would not be paying.

Breytenbach said she also informed them that if “their clients had dirty hands or lied to me they could be quite certain that I would prosecute them happily”.

Breytenbach testified that it had become quite commonplace for private-sphere investigators and legal counsel to assist in complex commercial investigations, largely because of decreasing skills levels within the police and the NPA.

When Trengove put it to her that Lawrence Mrwebi, head of the special commercialised crimes unit of the NPA, had testified that this was not the case, Breytenbach said he was “incorrect”.

She said she wasn’t sure if Mrwebi had ever prosecuted a complex commercial matter.

Breytenbach said Colonel Sandra Van Wyk, the investigating officer, had worked with her and Hellens on drafting the search and seizure application affidavits but that he had only prepared the final draft, which Van Wyk then took to the police’s legal services to have approved.

Breytenbach testified that Van Wyk had decided that applying for search and seizure warrants against ICT was a “logical starting point” in the investigation.

Asked if either case was close to its conclusion, she said: “Not even close, the investigation was at its inception.

“While certain people appeared more likely to be suspects, that could have changed at in instant,” said Breytenbach.

She said ICT’s version of events that a Sishen employee slipped fraudulent documents into their case file at a later stage – seemed “unlikely”.

Breytenbach said the purpose of the search and seizure warrants were to find evidence that either “cemented or disproved” that ICT had connived with officials of the department of mineral resources to submit its apllication for the mining rights after the deadline had already expired.

Responding to allegations that she investigated only one side of the case, Breytenbach testified that the ICT complaint against Sishen was never brought to her.

She said this was despite the fact she had asked Van Wyk to do so because she thought they could investigate “both sides of the same coin”.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

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