Shaun 'is no sheep'

2018-01-21 05:46
Shaun Abrahams.  (File, Netwerk24)

Shaun Abrahams. (File, Netwerk24)

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Advocates Malini Govender and Knorx Molelle looked surprisingly fresh on Friday afternoon after months of burning the midnight oil with their teams on state capture-related cases.

Govender, the acting head of the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit, and Molelle, head of operations of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, hit our TV screens on Tuesday when the Pretoria High Court granted them an order to preserve R1.6bn in assets from Gupta-linked financial services company Trillian and international management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

The pair do not like the limelight.

They also have a plea for South Africans baying for the blood – and money – of individuals and companies involved in state capture.

“Give us the space to do our work to ensure that we maintain the integrity of the process and the integrity of the cases that we intend to bring to court. We need to properly and fully investigate these matters,” said Govender.

The pair and their team of 20 officials from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), as well as investigators from the Hawks, the Financial Intelligence Centre, the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission and National Treasury have only begun their action against state capturers.

They aim to preserve R50bn in assets across 17 cases brought by the Asset Forfeiture Unit in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

That, though, is just the beginning.

“This is the first action of about 200 cases. We have prioritised some with the view of recovering R50bn. This is the first batch. There is a lot more work that we are doing,” said Molelle.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit also secured a preservation order on Thursday for just more than R220m in assets from Gupta-owned companies that funnelled the money from the Vrede dairy project in the Free State to their companies, as well as Atul Gupta himself.

Although he declined to reveal who the other 15 cases involved, Molelle said it “covers the bulk of the activities in the state-owned entities ... when major contracts have been unlawfully awarded”.

Govender and Molelle also insist that their boss, national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams, has held them to “strict timelines”, ensured they had enough resources and had removed obstacles that they faced.

Although they say they are not there to manage his reputation or curry favour, Abrahams, to them, is no sheep.

Govender and Molelle also have a history with Abrahams – they go back to their days as prosecutors in Pietermaritzburg.

After their investigation began in earnest in March, when the first docket came through to the NPA, Govender said she and Molelle “were required to make progress reports to the national director of public prosecutions, and on the blockages that we were experiencing”.

“He was very involved in assessing whether or not the resources assigned to this team were sufficient to deal with a case of this magnitude, especially as the cases kept on growing as a result of all the allegations.”

Molelle said the amount of time it took to investigate and compile a solid case resulted in inaccurate perceptions about whether the NPA was doing its work.

“The media leaks around the Guptas created a lot of unwarranted anxiety.

"A leaked email that comes into the public space has created this perception that we have this body of evidence in the public space, so what is the NPA doing about it?

"Hence the perception that [Abrahams] has stolen the process, that he is captured.”

Govender said the state would present solid evidence in court, and would enrol the matters when they were ready for trial.

“Public sentiment runs very high. We appreciate that. We are also very appreciative of the seriousness of the allegations. But we’ve got to do our work ... in a way that we don’t fail at the goalposts,” she said.

Abrahams, the pair said, had strengthened their ability to fight corruption by ensuring greater cooperation with other agencies, including the Special Investigating Unit, the Competition Commission, the SA Revenue Service and the office of the Public Protector.

“He calls us in and gets a briefing from our teams about what is going on if our commitments are not met. He has held us very accountable. He demands excellence of us. We cannot bring him anything half-baked.”

Govender and Molelle, together with Abrahams, decided to start with the asset preservation cases first.

“We have a different strategy with regards to the criminal prosecution, which is why it will take a little bit more time for us to be able to bring the types of enrolments [of cases] that people are baying for at this time,” said Govender.

They are now looking to bolster the team.

Molelle said: “We need twice as many people as we have. Very soon, we will have to replenish the little capacity we have because of the manner in which we have been working.

“Very soon, we are going to become victims of our own success. We have created an expectation ... Our guys are working around the clock. Now questions are being asked about when the prosecutions are going to happen.”

Molelle and Govender have applied for mutual legal assistance from eight countries in a process they began in July and stepped up in September and October.

Govender said she was “heartened by the commitments we have received from foreign entities to assist us”.

So when can we expect arrests?

Govender said: “When the evidence lends itself. We are at a sensitive stage of proceedings. We are working towards bringing the matters to court.”

Her team, she said, was “passionate and very driven to ensure that we do right by our country”, and she’s told them not to pay attention to the pressure.

“Ultimately, we will be judged by what happens in court.”

Read more on:    shaun abrahams  |  state capture

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