I’ll stop at nothing – SIU boss Vas Soni

2013-09-01 14:00

New SIU boss has vowed to be tough on corruption and its ‘real beneficiaries’

The newly appointed head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) has vowed never to be deterred from an investigation, even if it leads him to President Jacob Zuma’s doorstep.

Advocate Vas Soni (SC), who was appointed as head of the corruption-busting SIU on Friday, also wants to turn the screws on private companies, which are the “real beneficiaries” of corruption.

But Zuma’s appointment of Soni, along with that of Durban attorney Mxolisi Nxasana as the new head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), has been met with a mixed response from attorneys, advocates and prosecutors.

The independence and resolve of the individuals appointed to these posts will be critical in South Africa’s fight against graft.

At least six senior legal sources familiar with the NPA told City Press they had never heard of Nxasana.

One advocate in Durban said Nxasana didn’t “have a strong public profile and was not well known beyond the immediate legal circles in Durban”.

The source said that Nxasana was very knowledgable legally, but that he was known for having a “short fuse”.

“Nxasana is hot-headed. That’s something he’ll have to watch, especially when taking advice from senior people around him,” said the advocate.

But another Durban prosecutor said Nxasana had “got lucky” because there were other candidates “who could acquit themselves to the job better”.

Nxasana will become the fourth permanent head of the NPA since 1994, despite the fact that the post is supposed to carry a 10-year term of office.

He qualified as an attorney in 1996 and has previously served as president of the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society and a chairperson of the provincial Black Lawyers’ Association.

He was mentored by respected Durban advocate Mvuseni Ngubane, who committed suicide earlier this year.

Ngubane was close to Zuma, with the president telling mourners at his funeral that he (Zuma) had spent time with him on the morning of his death.

Soni’s appointment has also attracted a lukewarm response in legal circles.

A senior advocate in Johannesburg, where Soni is based, described him as “weak-willed”.

“I think it would be pretty easy to intimidate him. I don’t think he’s going to cause any problems, but he’s honest, he’s not a crook.”

In an interview with City Press on Friday, Soni said the fact that he was one of Zuma’s appointees to the Judicial Service Commission would not affect his integrity.

“I don’t know Mr Zuma at all. I’ve met him on different (public) occasions, but I cannot say I have a relationship with him.

“I can say to you without a thought that I could be contradicted on that. He (Zuma) does not know me personally and I would like to think the appointment was made with respect to my professional qualifications and abilities.”

Soni said that it was important that all those who benefited from the manipulation of tenders were brought to book, including the private sector, which he said was often ignored.

“One reads in the newspapers about the investigations of tenders all the time. The only person who really benefits is the person who gets the tender, which is the private sector.”

Soni cited as an example the recent Competition Commission case involving collusion between construction companies.

“That was one of the most important cases because it showed maladministration that was mainly in the hands of the private sector, which totalled billions.”

Asked by City Press if he would persist in his investigations even if they led him to Zuma, Soni said “absolutely”.

“I’ve never stopped investigating when I know that it possibly involves people higher than the level of a junior. You have my assurance, I will not stop.”

Soni has been an advocate for 26 years and a senior counsel for eleven.

He was an investigator and evidence leader in the Skweyiya Commission of Inquiry into corruption in the then Bophuthatswana.

He was also the chief evidence leader of the Jali Commission of Inquiry into corruption in South Africa’s prisons.

Another issue that has raised eyebrows is that Soni will turn 67 four days after taking office.

In 2011 Zuma was criticised for appointing former Judge Willem Heath, who was then 66.

The presidency at the time said the SIU Act made no reference to age, even if the Public Service Amendment Act stipulates the retirement age as 65.

Zuma’s homeboy appointments

President Jacob Zuma’s criminal justice sector is dominated by appointees from Kwazulu-Natal.

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