NPA losing the war on drugs

2014-07-14 00:00

THE National Prosecuting Authority’s Asset Forfeiture Unit has been paralysed by the vicious leadership battle in its uppermost ranks, and losing the fight against well-heeled drug barons is collateral damage.

This comes in the wake of a string of high-profile drug seizures totalling nearly R75 million.

The Witness can reveal that just under R6 million in cash, several houses and a handful of cars make up the entirety of the unit’s successes in the past year.

The figures were contained in ­internal statistics released by the NPA following a formal request.

Experts say the NPA is a rudderless ship, with constant battles for succession, and that the attack on head ­Mxolisi Nxasana from within his own ranks has caused turmoil in the ­organisation.

Spending more time tied up court than stripping drug lords of their flash cars and lavish pads, the unit has become ineffective in the war on international syndicates.

While a series of police raids has netted billions in narcotics, asset seizures do not measure up.

This as South Africa becomes a known tradeport for illegal substance manufacturing and trafficking.

A senior AFU official, who could not be named as he is not authorised to speak to the press, said a protracted legal process had to be followed.

“There is a process which means the time from charging a suspect to stripping them of their ill-gotten assets is drawn out. Sometimes it can take years.

“Once these dealers are charged, a docket comes to the AFU and then an application is made to the high court to seize the person’s houses and cars, but this can be opposed in court by the suspect. These dealers have access to huge amounts of money and get the best lawyers, so they tie the process up in court for years,” he added.

He said the seizures amounted to a fraction of the local drug trade.

“These are international syndicates and what we seize doesn’t even dent the operations. They don’t feel the pinch; they remain in their expensive houses. It is very difficult to deliver justice.”

DA police spokesperson Dianne Kohler Barnard said criminals appeared to be out of reach of the law, and a leader-less NPA was not helping.

“It is clear when comparing the seizures that the criminals are taking great care in putting their assets out of reach of the NPA. These are criminals who recognise no borders, and have enormous funds to hand to hire the sharpest legal minds. They operate at a global level, and will use every law and directive to their own benefit. The NPA had no significant leadership for a considerable period of time, and the new head Mxolisi ­Nxasana is today under attack,” she said.

“South Africa must come to terms with the fact that it is a manufacturer and exporter of drugs, and before we earn a reputation as the Colombia of this continent. We must accept that we have dramatically failed to anticipate the extent and nature of the threat to civilised living by international organised crime syndicates.

“Criminals are organised on a far more horizontal basis, but our police are organised in silos and work within those. We have to ask whether we are using our own resources effectively,” said Kohler Barnard.

Institute for Security Studies researcher Johan Burger said that in-fighting has scuppered productivity.

“The current problems at the NPA, such as the ongoing in-fighting, the uncertainties in relation to leadership, the negative impact on morale at the NPA and the damage to public trust and confidence in the NPA, must have an inhibiting impact on the NPA’s ability to perform optimally.

“All of these factors as well as staff shortages within the AFU will similarly prevent the latter unit from performing at an optimal level,” he said.

“What is urgently needed is for the NPA house to be put in order. This can only be achieved once the crisis at leadership level is sorted out and apparently this will not happen soon. The president is to announce a board of inquiry into the fitness of the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP).

“This may lead to his suspension until the board completes its work, which can take many months before action is taken to either reinstate or dismiss him. This follows a long history of similar dismissals — for various reasons — of all his predecessors and the subsequent controversial appointment and performance of Nomqobo Jiba as acting NDPP for 18 months before his appointment,” Burger added.

“It should be obvious that no institution can expected to perform efficiently and effectively when it is constantly embroiled in a continuous state of leadership instability, uncertainty and controversy. Unfortunately this is precisely what is wrong at the NPA.”

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