NPA having difficulties with mutual legal assistance from India and UAE

NDPP Shamila Batohi and DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach in conversation after the meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. (Jan Gerber/News24)
NDPP Shamila Batohi and DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach in conversation after the meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. (Jan Gerber/News24)

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) is having "particular difficulties" with requests for mutual legal assistance (MLAs) from India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi told the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services on Tuesday.

Batohi did not name the Guptas or state whether the requests for mutual legal assistance related to them.

However, News24 reported last week that eight countries were approached for mutual legal assistance in an attempt to have the Guptas extradited to face state capture allegations, with India and the UAE among them. The other countries are the US, Canada, Switzerland, Mauritius, Hong Kong and China.

"If you don't get the accused, you won't be able to proceed with the prosecution, generally," Batohi said.

"We are having particular difficulties with MLAs that went to India and the United Arab Emirates. We do have a treaty with India, but not with the Emirates.

"But from our side, our country has done everything that we need to do.

"The process on the other side has not been forthcoming."

Batohi said Justice Minister Ronald Lamola was involved at the highest level trying to ensure better co-operation.

DA MP Glynnis Breyenbach asked Batohi for an update on their investigations emanating from the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. The Guptas are implicated in much of the testimony before the commission.

"People are becoming impatient. I think you'll see the honeymoon is now over," Breytenbach said to Batohi who took up the role of NDPP about eight months ago.

This question remained unanswered, albeit committee chairperson Bulelani Magwanishe saying the NPA could respond to some questions in writing.

Earlier in her presentation, Batohi said there were undue delays in the finalisation of high value cases, especially state capture cases. This was due to performance inhibiting factors such as the complexity or extent of high value cases, delays in criminal investigations and a lack of financial investigator capacity.

She added measures to speed up the finalisation of high-value state capture cases were implemented and staff was dedicated from regional offices to assist with state capture cases.

This past weekend, the Sunday Times reported that senior advocates Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, Wim Trengove, Ngwako Maenetje and Geoff Budlender were appointed to help the NPA's investigative directorate to bring state capture cases to court.

Batohi said there was a basic criteria for the selection of the counsel.

"Basically, we needed to find a senior council who would be respected by prosecutors in terms of the work that they do in a criminal law space.

"They have been allocated to certain teams.

"Also, we looked at counsel who had a certain degree of knowledge with regard to some of these matters because they have been involved in different ways prior to these matters being declared by the directorate. So knowledge of matters was very important."

They also looked at the skills and qualifications, for example, the years of experience as a senior counsel.

"We looked at the issue of representivity and value for money, because the rates that they have given us are not the usual senior counsel rates, or we have received their services at reduced rates."

On Tuesday, the Black Lawyers Association (BLA) said it was "deeply disappointed" that not a single woman was appointed to join the team of advocates.

In a statement, the BLA added it was "baffled by the state's continued disregard of female legal practitioners".

Batohi told the committee that five female attorneys were also appointed as junior counsel.

In a report by EWN on Monday, it was revealed that the NPA had been paying for investigative directorate head Hermione Cronje's weekly stays at a "luxury" hotel in Pretoria during the week as well as her flights between Cape Town and Pretoria.

During her portfolio committee briefing on Tuesday, Batohi said the hotel Cronjé was staying in was not a luxury hotel, that its other guests were also mostly government officials and that they were paying government rates.

"She is a mother with two young children," she said, recalling how difficult it was for her when she was the evidence leader at the King commission in Cape Town that investigated the Hansie Cronjé cricket match-fixing saga in 2000, while her two young children were in Durban.

"She has taken on this position at great personal sacrifice," Batohi said of Cronjé.

Her accommodation costs R106 000, her flights R144 900 and car R64 000, for a total of R304 900. She is expected to relocate to Pretoria by the end of the year.

"It's all above board and, if anything, we actually owe her more," Batohi said.

She added the NPA was on a recruitment drive to appoint more prosecutors. 

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