Simelane sets his sights on assets unit
Controversial National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Menzi Simelane has stripped the head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in KwaZulu-Natal, Knorx Molelle, of all his powers, leaving him in limbo and unable to lead his successful team.
Simelane has accused Molelle of “defeating the ends of justice” in relation to a high-profile multimillion-rand tender corruption case that involves Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi and senior ANC politicians Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni.
Willie Hofmeyr, head of both the asset forfeiture and special investigating units, is apparently fighting to get Molelle’s powers reinstated. At the same time, he is trying to defend himself against what concerned colleagues call the “trumped-up” charges recently levelled against him.
The highly regarded Molelle remains in his job but is being prevented from leading his team. An advocate, his work also involves overseeing complex litigation as powerful criminals resist government attempts to seize the proceeds flowing from their crimes.
The attacks on Hofmeyr and Molelle come in the wake of attempts earlier this month to smear the reputation of the public protector, Thuli Madonsela, who was reported to be facing arrest for fraud and corruption over her business dealings.
Hailed for her bravery in exposing corruption, Madonsela was about to hold a press conference to reveal her findings on the police lease scandal in Durban when news broke of her imminent arrest. The resulting confusion was cleared up only after Justice Minister Jeff Radebe intervened and said that Madonsela had not broken any laws when her company rendered services to the justice department.
Hofmeyr is scheduled to meet Radebe and Simelane on July 29 to discuss why Molelle has come under fire and try to get his powers reinstated. Hofmeyr declined to comment.
Asked why Molelle had been stripped of all his powers, Simelane’s spokesperson, Mthunzi Mhaga, declined to explain. “This is an internal matter that is under consideration and we are not at liberty to discuss it in the media,” he said.
He denied that Simelane wanted to shut down the Asset Forfeiture Unit and said there had never been any plans to do so.
Mhaga also denied that Simelane had told investigators to “find something” on Hofmeyr and Molelle that could lead to their arrests.
“This is not true as the national director of public prosecutions never had any communications with the investigators in both matters. It is not his style to interfere with investigations as he respects the work of law enforcement.”
‘The unbridled attack’
NPA sources who spoke to the Mail & Guardian about what they see as Simelane’s “unbridled attack” on the unit complained that their phones were bugged.
Molelle—who is regarded as a close ally of Hofmeyr—and his team achieved international recognition for the way they tackled the Intaka corruption case involving top ANC leaders.
They obtained restraining orders to freeze assets belonging to Savoi worth R180-million. Savoi owns Intaka and is accused of bribing senior ANC politicians to approve inflated government tenders for water-purification plants worth millions of rands. They also successfully traced R12-million in cash that Savoi had put in a Swiss bank account.
Molelle declined to comment about his frustrating predicament other than to say: “It is not a bad idea to be investigated, as long as the intention is to get to the truth. I cannot say anything further.”
The Asset Forfeiture Unit’s internal integrity management unit conducted an investigation into Molelle, who is yet to be shown a copy. He also has not faced any internal disciplinary hearing or criminal charges.
Concerned NPA officials said they considered the action taken against him to be “very disappointing”.
Simelane’s accusation against Molelle is believed to have arisen after the state failed in its bid to revoke Savoi’s R200 000 bail in February, leading to it having to reach a settlement with his legal team.
During the bail case, the state prosecution team admitted an “administrative error” when it stated on the charge sheet that Savoi was out on warning, not on bail. The state failed to inform the magistrate that there were two related Savoi cases, one heard in Cape Town and the other in Pietermaritzburg, and two sets of bail conditions.
As a result, Pietermaritzburg regional court magistrate Chris van Vuuren said that, under the circumstances, the court could not hear the application to revoke Savoi’s bail. The state team then reached a settlement agreement whereby Savoi was given two weeks to disclose his assets.
Simelane has taken a keen interest in the case and during bail hearings involving Northern Cape provincial ANC leader John Block and Savoi in the Kimberley magistrates’ court, he donned his robes and unexpectedly prosecuted the case himself—despite his lack of court experience.
He allegedly felt that the settlement agreement was too favourable for Savoi, NPA sources said, but because of the state’s blunder in court there had been no choice but to renegotiate.
“If the bail conditions had not been renegotiated, the matter could have been struck off the roll and we would have had egg on our face,” said an NPA source.
Although the Asset Forfeiture Unit regards itself as an integral part of the NPA and not as “an island”, its members cannot understand why Simelane would be “out to get” them, especially considering their good track record. The unit has won international recognition for the way it has implemented its mandate.
“There is no doubt that Simelane is trying to compromise the Asset Forfeiture Unit, but we cannot understand why he would want it to go under,” said an NPA source. “Why break something when it is working?”
The high-stakes Intaka case, one of the biggest fraud and corruption cases ever in the country, resumes in Pietermaritzburg next week.
KwaZulu-Natal Premier Zweli Mkhize has been drawn into the scandal because he signed two documents that led to the provincial government spending R44-million on the Intaka water-purification plants. At the time he was the provincial minister of finance and economic development and therefore the accounting officer, but he has not been charged and is expected to appear as a state witness.
The state will allege in court that the purification plants were bought from Savoi’s company without being put to tender.
Senior sources in the NPA claim that Simelane’s interference in the case has led to unnecessary delays in the execution of arrest warrants for Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni, senior ANC leaders in KwaZulu-Natal.
Their attorneys were informed that they were about to be arrested after the charge sheet had already been drawn up, said NPA sources.
But Simelane stepped in to delay the process, which Mhaga said would “enable the prosecuting team to prepare the relevant charge sheet”.
Through Mhaga, Simelane declined to respond to allegations that he was mistaken about the fact that the charge sheet was not prepared.
“We are not commenting on this matter at this stage, until the matter is properly ventilated [sic] before a court of law,” he said.
Mabuyakhulu is the KwaZulu-Natal minister for economic development and tourism, and Nkonyeni is the speaker of the provincial legislature. It is expected that they could be arrested next week.