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Mpshe in spotlight over staffer's fraud rap

AmaBhungane Reporters

Former boss Mokotedi Mpshe's withdrawal of fraud charges against NPA employee Gift Ngobeni has raised questions about his vulnerability to blackmail.

Mokotedi Mpshe. (Lisa Skinner)

The withdrawal of fraud charges against a National Prosecuting Authority employee has emerged as a crucial element in claims that former acting prosecuting boss Mokotedi Mpshe had a relationship that could have rendered him vulnerable to blackmail.

Mpshe has denied any affair with the employee, Gift Ngobeni, then an NPA manager in Kimberley, as has she. AmaBhungane has seen no evidence that an affair took place.

Yet an investigation has disclosed a sequence of events leading up to charges being pursued against Ngobeni, and then withdrawn, that raises questions about Mpshe’s role.

Ngobeni, aged 37 at the time, was arrested in August 2008 on four counts of fraud. Charges were laid by her boss, Northern Cape director of public prosecutions Ivy Thenga. A year later, in October 2009, the criminal case was withdrawn.

As early as May 2009, Ngobeni’s name appeared in a police intelligence report, in which it was alleged that she was involved in an affair with Mpshe and that he “fraudulently authorised Ngobeni to undertake fake business trips in order for her to visit him”.

Both Mpshe and Ngobeni last week denied any wrongdoing.

Mpshe also denied being involved in the withdrawal of charges against Ngobeni.

At the time, the local Volksblad newspaper reported that Mpshe “withdrew the charges after studying a report from the prosecutor”.

Surprise withdrawal
Two knowledgeable NPA sources claimed the withdrawal had come as a surprise. Said one: “There was a strong case against Gift. But all of a sudden … it was withdrawn.”

A member of Ngobeni’s defence team, who asked not to be named, noted that he had previously asked the prosecution to drop the charges on technical grounds, “but they were stubborn and wanted to continue with the case”.

A police source close to the investigation claimed: “Mpshe declined to prosecute her, without giving any reasons.”

Mpshe maintains that he “never gave any instructions whatsoever to [withdraw] the charges”.

“All I know is that charges were pressed, but I cannot remember whether they were ever withdrawn.”

Mpshe claimed that his involvement in the matter was limited to that of mediator between Ngobeni and her boss, Thenga, before charges were brought.

Travel claims
Thenga lodged the complaint after discovering Ngobeni had submitted subsistence and travel claims worth R24 000 for trips during which she allegedly did not work.

Ngobeni suggested her legal problems stemmed from a personality clash with Thenga. She claimed that her only involvement with Mpshe had been when he tried to “intervene” in the dispute between her and Thenga prior to her arrest.

Ngobeni said there had been “only one time” when she was alone with Mpshe, when he had missed a return flight from Kimberley while on NPA business. She took Mpshe to the airport and they had a meal, but there was nothing else to it, Ngobeni said.

Mpshe also claimed his only interaction with Ngobeni was when he tried to “reconcile the two of them” as part of his job.

“The relationship was very bad …And the boss, Ivy, was saying: ‘I am going to charge her with this and this and that.’ I said: ‘But let’s see if we can sort this thing out first.’ That is why I travelled to Kimberley.”

Protection
But although Mpshe claimed he was only acting as a mediator, the two NPA sources claimed that he was trying “to protect Gift”.

The sources said this became evident when Thenga allegedly refused to sign off Ngobeni’s travel forms, “so Mpshe did it for her”.

Ngobeni confirmed only that she had sent her travel forms to be authorised “at head office”.

The police source close to the investigation told amaBhungane that Mpshe might have been a witness in the case against Ngobeni, because “he did sign off on some claims”, but at least one was a “genuine claim” for a work trip.

On whether he authorised trips for Ngobeni or made a statement to that effect, Mpshe said: “It could be; it is a long time back.”

Thenga declined to comment.

Prosecution justified
After Thenga laid charges, the docket was referred to Pretoria for a decision. A November 2008 letter seen by amaBhungane shows that a senior advocate, Barend Bredenkamp, thought the evidence justified prosecution.

The prosecutor appointed, advocate Wellington Sampisi, said he had eventually withdrawn the case “because there was not sufficient evidence against [Ngobeni]. That is the sole reason.” He said the decision “had nothing to do with advocate Mpshe”, although he had reported the decision to Mpshe.

The police declined to provide amaBhungane with access to the docket and failed to answer questions about the withdrawal of the case.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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