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Mbeki to Heath: 'You can't go'

2001-05-18 19:00

Cape Town - President Thabo Mbeki has denied a request from corruption-buster Judge Willem Heath to be discharged from the judiciary.

Mbeki's decision is based on Justice Minister Penuell Maduna's recommendation, according to informed sources.

Justice ministry spokesperson Paul Setsetse confirmed that a recommendation was made to Mbeki, but referred queries to the presidency.

Presidential spokesperson Bheki Khumalo told Sapa on Friday: "We have written to Judge Heath's lawyers".

He said the president had applied his mind after receiving Maduna's report. Khumalo described the matter as sensitive and said he did not want to make public the president's decision.

For the past six years Heath has been at the helm of the special investigating unit, but a Constitutional Court decision in November last year ruled it was unconstitutional for a judge to head the unit.

Although the court allowed a one-year grace period, the government tabled the so-called Heath Bill providing for someone other than a judge to head the unit.

Heath on long leave since exclusion from arms probe

Heath has been on long leave since February 1, after Mbeki's controversial decision to exclude the unit from a multi-agency probe into the arms deal.

He was due to return to active duty at the end of May.

Heath applied to be discharged from the bench in terms of the Judges' Remuneration and Conditions of Employment Act, as he wished to work in the private sector.

Earlier this week he said he had asked for a discharge, because for six years he had not sat as a judge. He previously sat on the Bisho bench.

"This, I believe has distanced me from the bench and as a result of this I would feel uncomfortable returning to the judiciary having lost six years of active service in this particular field," Heath said in a statement.

Heath, who was appointed by former president Nelson Mandela, has had a rocky relationship with Mbeki and Maduna. In his annual report to Parliament for the year ending March 2000, tabled earlier this year, Heath said Maduna had over this period refused to process proclamations for investigations to Mbeki's office.

The minister had unilaterally informed the unit on several occasions during the year that he had decided to refer matters to other investigating institutions.

'Great disruption and serious insecurity' in unit

Heath said comments by the minister about the future of the unit had caused "great disruption and serious insecurity" among members of the unit.

Earlier this week, Heath issued a statement denying media reports that he had asked government for a R7 850 000 golden handshake, a monthly salary and his judicial title and status for the rest of his life.

He also denied "demanding" that he be allowed to work in the private sector.

Heath was not available for comment on Friday.