Lawrence Mrwebi accused of interfering in staff fraud probe
Controversial National Prosecuting Authority strongman Lawrence Mrwebi is at the centre of new claims of trying to interfere with an investigation.
Mrwebi, appointed late last year to head the NPA’s Specialised Commercial Crime unit, has accumulated a number of controversial interventions in politically charged cases.
They include his instruction to withdraw charges against suspended crime intelligence supremo Richard Mdluli and his review of charges against KwaZulu-Natal provincial heavyweights Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni.
But the latest allegation is so serious that it is said to have been brought to the attention of the Hawks, although this could not be confirmed.
And it is also much closer to home, involving current and former members of the NPA staff in corruption allegations that seem to have been kept buried for years.
The case goes back to 2006 when the NPA advertised a tender for security at various NPA buildings around the country for an amount of R13-million. In a process that formed the basis of criminal charges against five men, the tender was awarded to an unknown KwaZulu-Natal security company, Intense Protection and Tourist Services, owned by KwaZulu-Natal businessperson Muziwandile Nala.
By this time, the cost had increased to R19-million.
According to a summary of the evidence in the case, a key player in setting up the tender was the then acting head of the KwaZulu-Natal security and risk management unit of the NPA, Terence Joubert.
Prior to the issuing of the tender, key members of its national security and risk management team travelled to Durban on official business.
The ‘coloured’ group
The group included its head, Walter “Wally” Rhoode, and the man who was later to serve as the chair of the bid evaluation committee, John Maree.
Joubert, Rhoode and Maree formed part of what was later termed a “coloured” group that dominated the NPA’s security structures.
During that visit, Joubert brought Nala after hours to the hotel in order to introduce him to the NPA delegation.
Nala was later encouraged to bid for the tender and approached his former mentor, prominent Durban VIP protection specialist Andre van der Byl, to submit a joint bid because Nala had no capacity to meet the bid requirements.
According to the evidence summary, Nala approached Van der Byl with the claim that “through Terence Joubert … and other coloureds based at head office” he was “guaranteed” to win the tender.
The summary records that in the open tender no company met the minimum 60% score.
Rhoode and the NPA’s head of supply chain management, Tebogo Sethabela, then recommended a closed tender through a request for bids from companies that had scored 40% or more.
Inexplicably, Intense Protection was invited to bid again, although, according to the investigation, it had scored only 27% in the first round.
The instruction to invite Intense Protection was issued by both Maree and Sethabela, although they both allegedly knew the company did not qualify.
It is alleged that Nala, Joubert and Van der Byl, who is a state witness, travelled to Pretoria for a briefing and that Nala handed over an envelope believed to contain R20 000 to Rhoode.
Nala is alleged also to have gratified others in the syndicate, including Joubert, Maree and Sethabela.
The closed tender, under the chairmanship of Maree, disqualified the other two bidders and awarded the contract to Intense Protection.
Van der Byl pulled out of the deal.
Joubert occupies a highly sensitive position in the NPA’s Durban office and has wide internal access to information and involvement in internal investigations of NPA staff.
It was this role that appears to have blown the lid on the alleged tender scam. Colleagues suspected that Joubert was being used by organised crime targets to disrupt their investigations by laying complaints against them, which Joubert would then investigate because of his risk management mandate.
It appears the NPA head office was, in turn, tipped off about an infraction by Joubert, who allegedly used a state vehicle for private travel to the Eastern Cape.
The probe, by the Scorpions’s special national projects unit, was completed in August 2007 and is understood to have revealed the relationship between Nala and Joubert.
Allegations and evidence against Joubert were handed to the NPA’s integrity management unit, led by Prince Mokotedi.
There the matter appears to have lain dormant until 2009 when, in May of that year, the Sowetan was tipped off about the Intense Protection contract.
Following inquiries, the NPA announced that the matter had been referred to the police for investigation.
Although no names of suspects were released, Rhoode, who had left the NPA to take over as head of security for the Fifa World Cup, unexpectedly resigned his position three months later.
Mokotedi has since emerged as a key ally of Mrwebi and the acting national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba.
Together with Jiba, he assisted Mdluli with the investigation into Gauteng Scorpions boss Gerrie Nel, which led to Nel’s arrest just ahead of the charging of former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
Jiba faced disciplinary charges because of her actions and both Mdluli and Mokotedi gave statements in her defence. Both Mokotedi and Mrwebi gave evidence for the defence in the Selebi trial.
Enter the Hawks
According to evidence by the prosecutor in court, police began seriously probing the Intense Protection case only in late 2011 when it was taken over by the Hawks.
In early December 2011, Hawks investigator Colonel Frans Kola arrested Nala, Joubert, Maree, Rhoode and Sethabela for tender fraud.
They were all released on bail and have indicated they believe the state does not have a case against them.
However, during Kola’s investigation, the police conducted a search and seizure operation on Joubert. It was at this stage that Mrwebi allegedly intervened.
According to an account provided to the Mail & Guardian, Mrwebi “stormed in” to the office of the prosecutor overseeing the case, advocate Nathi Mncube, and allegedly instructed him to halt the execution of the search warrant.
Mncube asked to know the basis of this instruction because, at the time, he did not report to Mrwebi.
Mrwebi, who knows Joubert well from his time as head of the Scorpions in KwaZulu-Natal, could not provide a satisfactory justification and Mncube refused his demand.
It is alleged that Mrwebi thereupon telephoned a police officer involved in the search and attempted to instruct him to call off the search. The officer also refused.
Mrwebi also instructed Mncube to hand over the investigation docket. Mncube refused.
Following Jiba’s appointment to act as national director of public prosecutions in the place of Menzi Simelane at the end of December 2011, she called for a briefing on cases that had been overseen by Simelane, which included the Intense Protection matter.
Mncube was reluctant to brief Jiba in the presence of Mrwebi because of his previous interference, but she insisted.
Following the briefing, she confirmed that he must report to Mrwebi on this matter.
The NPA declined to deal with the allegations of interference.
NPA spokesperson Bulelwa Makeke said in an email response: “As a matter of principle, we will not be drawn into responding to gossip-mongering and clandestine media leaks by faceless internal sources. Doing so will be legitimising clearly unethical behaviour by employees with anti-establishment agendas.”
On May 28, Mncube was provisionally forced to withdraw charges when the magistrate in the Pretoria Regional Court refused to grant another postponement for further investigation.
Mncube complained that part of the delay was owing to the investigator, Kola, having been removed from the case and the fact, since March, that two new officers had to be briefed.
The NPA said: “The investigations are on track and advocate Mncube will re-enrol the case as soon as the outstanding elements of the investigation are completed.”