/ 28 September 2007

Pikoli: The Selebi connection

National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli’s failure to give his political superiors full details of the investigation into police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi — and possibly of Selebi’s planned arrest — led to his suspension, according to a range of official sources.

The Mail & Guardian first revealed Selebi’s links to organised crime figures, and the Scorpions’ investigation into these links, in May last year. The Scorpions is a division of the National Prosecuting Authority, which Pikoli heads.

This raises the question of whether President Thabo Mbeki has decided to shut down the Selebi investigation, or whether it will proceed, perhaps in a different form.

Mbeki suspended Pikoli on Sunday. A government statement gave the reason as ‘an irretrievable breakdown in the working relationship” between the NPA chief and Minister of Justice Brigitte Mabandla.

It is generally accepted that their relationship had been strained for some time.

Pikoli did not take Mabandla into his confidence over details of Scorpions investigations which she felt she should know about.

‘Something” gone wrong

Government has not revealed what pushed the relationship over the brink, but Frank Chikane, the director general in the Presidency, told reporters on Tuesday that ‘something had gone wrong” with Pikoli’s reporting to the minister.

A variety of sources in or associated with the NPA and government said this week that the breakdown related to the Scorpions investigation of Selebi, and not other sensitive investigations, such as into Jacob Zuma and the arms deal. They all spoke on condition of anonymity.

Several NPA staffers referred to an intranet posting on Monday by Mokotedi Mpshe, Pikoli’s deputy, appointed by Mbeki to head the NPA in an acting capacity. In it, Mpshe apparently asked staff to remain calm, but also volunteered that Mabandla had called Pikoli on Sunday to demand his resignation. When Pikoli refused, Mbeki suspended him.

A senior NPA member said he understood Mabandla ‘freaked out” after she found that Pikoli had kept information about the Selebi investigation from her.

Another said internal speculation was that Mabandla felt ‘disregarded” in relation to the Selebi investigation, and that ‘there must have been some agreement” which Pikoli had flouted.

A government official close to the axed prosecutions boss said Pikoli met the Scorpions team probing Selebi about two weeks ago and was given a full report on the investigation. Pikoli then gave the green light for Selebi’s arrest.

According to the source, Pikoli did not communicate his decision to Mabandla or Mbeki. ‘The arrest was supposed to have taken place last week. But the president learned about it and confronted Pikoli.” This led to his suspension.

He added: ‘Pikoli does not take orders. Although he was very close to the president, on this he took a principled position. He felt strongly that Selebi was unfit for office. That’s the reason why he wanted him arrested as soon as last week.”

However, an intelligence source associated with the Mbeki camp discounted this as a ‘smoke and mirrors” version being ‘pushed by the Scorpions”. He pointed to earlier reports of Mbeki intervening in a Scorpions plan to raid police headquarters as part of their investigation. In that case, Mbeki had been kept in the loop.

Two government sources privy to communications on the issue did not deny that the Selebi investigation was the immediate cause of Pikoli’s suspension, but said there were other, earlier factors.

One mentioned Mbeki’s dissatisfaction over the ‘Special Browse Mole” report, authored by the Scorpions, and leaked to Cosatu and the media earlier this year, embarrassing government.

The report recounted allegations that foreign leaders such as Angola’s José Eduardo dos Santos and Libya’s Moammar Gadaffi had offered to back Jacob Zuma in the ANC succession battle.

In July, the government dismissed the report as disinformation by apartheid-linked ‘information peddlers”. Essentially, the Scorpions were accused of straying into intelligence-gathering beyond the unit’s powers and of being compromised by apartheid-era links.

The second source mentioned as factors in Pikoli’s suspensions the Scorpions’ raid on the Union Buildings to obtain evidence for the Zuma prosecution.

Apparently, there were questions about the use of private security operatives in the raid, and the handling of classified information.

On the version of these sources it appears that Mbeki may have come over to the view of traditional detractors of the Scorpions. They accuse it of exposing itself and the NPA to abuse by apartheid-linked, private and foreign interests. Pikoli is said to have done too little to counter this.

However, it is unlikely that these factors alone prompted the sudden and drastic action against Pikoli.

Investigating Selebi

The Scorpions investigation into Selebi apparently started early last year as part of the unit’s wider investigation into the corporate crimes and murder of mining magnate Brett Kebble. The M&G reported that May on Selebi’s links to Glenn Agliotti, whom Selebi called ‘my friend, finish and klaar”.

Agliotti, accused of a deep involvement in organised crime, was later arrested by the Scorpions for Kebble’s murder. He pleaded guilty to an ‘assisted suicide”. Agliotti has assisted the Scorpions with further investigations, including those into Selebi.

The extent of the investigation was publicly admitted by Scorpions head Leonard McCarthy in an affidavit last November when the NPA tried, unsuccessfully, to use the courts to gag the M&G from publishing further information about the Selebi investigation.

McCarthy’s affidavit said: ‘It is an investigation into an extensive organised crime network operating both in South Africa and abroad. I have been in the DSO [Scorpions] for five years and I can confirm that this is one of the most extensive, complex and sensitive investigations that the DSO has ever undertaken.”

The affidavit said the investigation focused on drug dealing, racketeering, money laundering, corruption and murder, and that there were allegations ‘of targeted corruption of senior law enforcement personnel — and the assassination of individuals who do not subscribe to the code of the criminal network”.

In May this year the M&G reported indications that the investigation into Selebi was coming to a head.

At about that time, Mbeki intervened to stop the NPA from applying for a search warrant to raid for evidence at police headquarters in Pretoria. Summoning Pikoli and Selebi, he brokered a compromise giving the Scorpions voluntary access.

Reports later reached the M&G that the investigation was ongoing, and that there had been a recent ‘breakthrough”.

What next?

Government has announced an inquiry into Pikoli’s fitness to hold office. However, there were media reports this week that Mbeki is to launch two further inquiries, one into the allegations of Selebi’s links with organised crime, the other into the police and the Scorpions’ use of of apartheid-linked private security companies to assist in investigations.

Mbeki’s motives remain unclear, but such an approach could work to his advantage in the ANC’s succession battle. He has been accused of using the Scorpions as his ‘private army” to tackle political opponents. Associated with these charges have been key ANC players, including Zuma, secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe, former provincial premiers Matthews Phosa and Ngoako Ramatlhodi, and axed spy boss Billy Masetlha.

Mbeki’s suspension of Pikoli would help neutralise such charges and blunt accusations that he allowed the unit to emerge as victors in their long-standing turf war — which was not limited only to the allegations against Selebi — with the police.

If inquiries are held into both Pikoli and Selebi, Mbeki will be seen to be even-handed — and, as such inquiries tend to take time, he is likely to be spared a politically uncomfortable outcome before the ANC’s succession battle comes to a head in Limpopo in December.

NPA spokesperson Tlali Tlali declined to comment.