NPA advocate Lawrence Mrwebi has been implicated in interfering in two politically sensitive cases in KwaZulu-Natal, writes Sam Sole.
The National Prosecuting Authority has been racked by fresh controversy over claims of interference by advocate Lawrence Mrwebi, the head of the specialised commercial crimes unit, in politically sensitive cases.
Mrwebi is the NPA official who ordered the withdrawal of fraud charges against former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.
Now internal memos seen by the Mail & Guardian show that Mrwebi has also intervened in two politically charged cases in KwaZulu-Natal.
Mrwebi’s intervention revolved around the “Amigos case” – involving Uruguayan businessman Gaston Savoi and senior KwaZulu-Natal politicians – and the “Madhoe case”, which touches on the investigation of politically connected businessperson Thoshan Panday and draws in provincial Hawks commander General Johan Booysen and the Cato Manor “hit squad” allegations.
In both instances there are claims that two senior prosecutors who have rejected Mrwebi’s views – the acting provincial director of public prosecutions, Simphiwe Mlotshwa, and advocate Bheki Manyathi – have experienced attempts to sideline them.
Refusal to confirm
One prosecutor, who declined to be named, said: “I am risking my career, but someone has to speak out about what Mrwebi is doing.”
Following a list of questions sent to the NPA, a caller from the authority who sounded like Mrwebi telephoned and suggested that this reporter talk to Mlotshwa “as he will confirm all your allegations”.
When it was suggested speaking to Mlotshwa might get the KwaZulu-Natal advocate into trouble, the caller said: “We know he is your source. He is in trouble already, bye bye.”
When the M&G called Mrwebi on his cellphone, he refused to confirm or deny that he was the caller and hung up.
In the official response to the questions, NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said: “Advocate Mrwebi has not ‘interfered’ in the Mdluli matter, but exercised his powers as head of the specialised commercial crimes unit in accordance with the NPA Act. In fact, he has not interfered in any matter as all decisions in the NPA are taken by officials empowered by both the NPA and the Constitution to do so.”
In the Amigos case, Mrwebi has held a series of meetings with prosecutors and investigators in the corruption case involving Gaston Savoi.
The investigation has been dubbed the “Amigos case” because of the chummy way in which Savoi and politicians addressed each other in email correspondence. Savoi, through his company Intaka, is alleged to have paid sweeteners to smooth the sale of water purifiers and oxygen generators at hugely inflated prices.
He is due to go on trial in October with a number of high-profile ANC figures, including economic development MEC Mike Mabuyakhulu, former health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni and former provincial treasury boss Sipho Shabalala.
Documents seen by the M&G show there has been a serious push by the NPA’s head office, spearheaded by Mrwebi, to have charges withdrawn against Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni.
The investigation has been dogged by allegations of political partiality as it cuts through provincial factions around Premier Zweli Mkhize and his perceived rivals, Mabuyahulu and Nkonyeni.
Mkhize was also involved in the procurement but was not charged. Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni are both regarded as closer to President Jacob Zuma than Mkhize.
In July last year, in what was perceived as a bid to stave off interference, the acting provincial director of public prosecutions, Mlotshwa, went so far as to confirm in the media that he had signed arrest warrants for Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni.
The NPA was forced to admit that the national director – Menzi Simelane at the time – had intervened to ask police to delay the execution of the warrants. Since Simelane stepped aside in December last year, efforts to review the decision to prosecute Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni have ratcheted up.
The documents seen by the M&G show that on March 8 this year a meeting was held at the NPA’s head office in Pretoria where “issues were raised”, including “why the premier was not similarly being charged if the MECs were charged”.
That meeting prompted two visits to KwaZulu-Natal by Mrwebi and advocate Anthony Mosing in March 2012 to discuss the case with local prosecutors and investigators.
A memo dated April 25, drafted by Mosing “with the concurrence of Mrwebi”, sets out their findings.
It records how the Intaka purchase was pushed by Shabalala, who allegedly later received a R1053000 payment from Savoi.
On the advice of Shabalala, Mkhize established an interdepartmental committee to consider the Intaka purchase.
Mabuyakhulu later admitted receiving R1-million from Shabalala as a donation to the ANC, although there was no paper trail to support the claim.
The Mosing memo confirms charges against Shabalala, but says of Mabuyakhulu: “Withdraw charges … He acted on the proposal that came from Shabalala and Dr Mkhize. If the latter is not being charged, how can he be charged? He received no benefit that is directly related to Intaka.”
On Nkonyeni, the memo states: “The crux of the case against the MEC, Peggy Nkonyeni, appears to be based on the relationship she had with one Mkhwanazi … It was alleged that she received R20 000 from Mkhwanazi as a bribe … It was considered by the team that this amount was negligible and could easily be explained by Peggy…”
Lindelihle Mkhwanazi, who was also charged, was said to be Nkonyeni’s lover and owned a company that had received significant “commission” payments from Intaka.
Mosing notes that the evidence against Nkonyeni was “based on various emails between her and Savoi”, but there was “no proof” of any gratification payments.
Mosing claims there was consensus that the charges against Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu had to be withdrawn.
That does not seem to have been the understanding of the KwaZulu-Natal office and it appears the April 25 memo was drawn up for another head office meeting attended by Mlotshwa and senior NPA managers, including acting national director of public prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba and Mrwebi.
Although the M&G has not spoken to any of those present at the meeting, it is understood that Mlotshwa indicated that he still believed there was sufficient evidence to charge Nkonyeni and Mabuyakhulu and that Jiba should formally overrule him in terms of the NPA Act if she held a different view.
A provincial NPA source, who declined to be named, told the M&G that on Monday this week a senior KwaZulu-Natal prosecutor, whose name is known to the M&G, told her staff that she would be taking over from Mlotshwa.
In response to questions, Mhaga said: “With regard to the Intaka case, we challenge you to provide proof that advocate Mrwebi has attempted to withdraw the case. We are not aware of such attempts as that matter falls within the jurisdiction of the director of public prosecutions [in KwaZulu-Natal]. The allegations of ‘brow-beating and bullying’ are dismissed with the contempt they deserve. As far as we are concerned, advocate Mlotshwa is still the acting director of public prosecutions for the KwaZulu-Natal office.”
Colonel Navin Madhoe is the KwaZulu-Natal procurement officer charged with R60-million in fraudulent police contracts with co-accused Panday, the Durban businessman who is linked both to President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward and the president’s friend, Deebo Mzobe.
While on bail, Madhoe is alleged to have tried to bribe provincial Hawks commander Booysen to backdate a key investigation report to suggest that evidence against him and Panday had been illegally obtained prior to the issuing of warrants.
Booysen set up a sting and Madhoe was arrested shortly after handing over R1.362-million to Booysen.
Booysen worked closely with the Cato Manor organised crime squad whose members were recently arrested on allegations of carrying out extrajudicial killings. Several members of the squad were used in the investigation of Madhoe and Panday.
On January 9, following representations by Madhoe’s lawyers on December 6, Mrwebi wrote to the provincial serious commercial crime unit to query the basis of the bribe charges against Madhoe.
Advocate Manyathi wrote back defending his case in detail.
The essence of Madhoe’s main defence, he explained, was that he had approached Booysen and told him of damning evidence that implicated Booysen and the Cato Manor unit.
Booysen then asked him to get the evidence so he could destroy it. Madhoe’s contacts wanted R2-million, but Booysen had handed him R1.362-million with a promise to pay the balance. This was unacceptable to his “contacts” and he was in the process of returning the money to Booysen when was he arrested.
Manyathi commented: “I must say that this is the most absurd averment I have ever come across.”
He pointed out that the “evidence” – crime scene photos similar to those that precipitated the Cato Manor investigation after they were published in the Sunday Times on December 11 – had been booked into the exhibit register by Booysen.
Manyathi wrote: “If Booysen was so determined to destroy the damning evidence, it defies logic why he allowed it to be handed into the exhibit register.”
According to an NPA source, it was after this interaction that a problem emerged with the selection process to fill the position of head of the provincial specialised commercial crimes unit head, for which Manyathi had been recommended.
Mhaga responded: “Advocate Mrwebi received representations from [Madhoe’s] attorneys ... Upon receipt of these representations, he requested that the prosecutors furnish him with the relevant case docket and clarify certain issues relating to the case.
“This is standard procedure followed by any official who has to consider representations so that he makes an informed decision. After studying the evidential material … advocate Mrwebi reaffirmed the initial decision taken by prosecutors to proceed with the prosecution.
“With regard to your allegations of ‘victimisation’ of advocate Manyathi, advocate Mrwebi denies this as he was not involved in the recruitment process leading up to his recommendation and subsequent halting of the process.