Abrahams denies dragging his feet on state capture probe

Shaun Abrahams. (File, Netwerk24)
Shaun Abrahams. (File, Netwerk24)

Cape Town – Those who are facing allegations of state capture will not be let off the hook, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams has promised, amid allegations of political involvement and selective prosecutions at the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA).

His answers on the slow progress on the prosecution of the Estina state capture matter, however, failed to satisfy MP's from the portfolio committees on police and of justice and correctional services on Wednesday.

The committees decided on a joint meeting after acting Hawks head Yolisa Matakata told the portfolio committee on police last week that the NPA did not "hinder the investigation [into state capture], but they're hindering the progress of taking the matter to court".

She said the Hawks had a docket for the Estina Vrede dairy farm case ready by November, but that the NPA only gave them the go-ahead to make arrests in February.

READ: Hawks' Matakata and NPA's Abrahams to face off in Parliament over Guptas

Abrahams, sitting right next to Matakata on Wednesday morning, delivered a statement in which he said he enjoyed a collegial relationship with her, but that her statements the week before were "regrettable". He said it "incorrectly gave the perception that the NPA and Hawks are at loggerheads".

"I was completely surprised," he said of Matakata's statement. He denied that NPA prosecutors had dragged their feet and said the docket wasn't ready for prosecution.

Matakata said there was a working relationship between the Hawks and NPA and that her statement from the week before should not be translated as there being a stand-off between the Hawks and NPA, or that she had thrown Abrahams under the bus.

She did, however, pick up some inaccuracies in the statement by Abrahams and would make a written submission to the committees.

MPs were still concerned about the time it took for arrests to be made and that some suspects, notably Ajay Gupta, had fled.

ANC MP Leonard Ramatlakane asked what had been done to mitigate the flight risk.

"It seems to me people were helped to leave," he said.

'Go figure, they are gone'

DA MP Werner Horn asked Abrahams why the NPA hadn't proceeded with the case in December, as "it would seem, from the NPA's side, everything only gathered steam in 2018".

He asked if they were waiting for the outcome of the ANC elective conference in late December "to see which way the wind will blow in 2018".

DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach, previously a prosecutor, expressed her exasperation over the time it had taken to get a case together, as much of the information was already in the public domain and only needed verification.

"These people are prime suspects. We all know who we are talking about: the Guptas, Jacob Zuma and his son Duduzane.

"It's bizarre. It’s impossible that these people could not be considered a flight risk," she said. "Go figure, they are gone."

ALSO READ: Hunt for Ajay Gupta heats up as more rewards offered

She said the prosecution was "obviously politically motivated", as nothing had happened while Zuma was in power.

She and her DA colleague Dianne Kohler Barnard said Abrahams had laid the blame on Matakata.

She described the investigation as the "most bungled investigation ever" and Abrahams' presentation as a "carefully laid out set of excuses".

'NPA is still politically captured'

EFF MP Thilivhali Mulaudzi said the NPA "went at supersonic speed" to prosecute then-finance minister Pravin Gordhan and Breytenbach.

"Uh-huh," agreed Breytenbach, a week after she was acquitted of all charges relating to unauthorised access to, and the modifying of official laptop contents while she was still at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

"The NPA is still politically captured," Mulaudzi said.

Co-chairperson Mathole Motshekga said it seemed that the NPA was targeting officials in their prosecution.

"If you look at Estina, the project was driven by politicians," he said, and asked why they hadn't acted against politicians.

Abrahams said he "certainly had no intention to throw General Matakata under the bus".

"I cannot say a delay [in prosecution] is a direct result of, or akin to, sabotage," he said about the allegations that they wilfully delayed prosecution to allow suspects to escape.

"I disagree that there are selective prosecutions," he said. "I'll be the first to concede, we can do more, and we're striving to do more."

'I don’t make the decisions'

On why no politicians had been arrested, he said it was still the subject of investigation and he couldn't publicly say if people would be arrested.

"I implore everybody to allow the investigation processes to take place.

"No one against who there is a prima facie case will be left off the hook. Nobody will escape justice in this matter, or any other matter.

"I disagree that this has been a bungled investigation," he said.

"I did not rush to charge Ms Breytenbach or Minister Gordhan," he said, adding that it wasn't a decision he made.

"I did not delay any arrests. I don’t make the decisions on who should be arrested or not arrested."

He said it was "completely incorrect" to say the NPA was politically captured.

Motshekga said they were seemingly not moving forward.

"We wanted to help remove the stumbling blocks," he said.

Ramatlakane agreed that they were not getting answers.

"We’re getting explanations that put us where we were when we got here".

'Scheme designed to defraud and steal'

The joint committee decided to call Justice Minister Michael Masutha, former police minister Fikile Mbalula and new Police Minister Bheki Cele.

In 2013, the Free State's department of agriculture, then with Mosebenzi Zwane as MEC, gave the Gupta-linked company Estina a 99-year lease on a dairy farm, with R220m for an empowerment project.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit would later describe this transaction as a "scheme designed to defraud and steal monies from the department".

In 2017, the Gupta Leaks revealed how at least R30m paid to the Guptas via the farm ended up funding the family's lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.

State officials Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng and Gupta associates Varun Gupta, Ronica Ragavan, Nazeem Howa, Ashu Chawla and Kamal Vasram appeared in court in February and were granted bail.

READ: Vrede dairy farm case: Kamal Vasram gets R100 000 bail

The Gupta-linked Zwane went on to become minister of mineral resources, but didn't make the cut when President Cyril Ramaphosa appointed his new Cabinet.

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