/ 7 May 2008

I was suspended over Selebi, says Pikoli

The real reason for the suspension of National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Vusi Pikoli related to a criminal probe into police chief Jackie Selebi, Pikoli’s lawyers said on Wednesday.

”It was to put a spoke in the wheels of the investigation and prosecution of the police National Commissioner, Mr Jackie Selebi,” they said.

This statement is contained in a submission by Pikoli’s lawyers prepared for the public hearing into whether he is fit to hold office.

His legal team provided the South African Press Association with a copy as the first public hearings of Frene Ginwala’s government-commissioned inquiry got under way.

President Thabo Mbeki suspended Pikoli on September 24 last year and Ginwala, former speaker of the National Assembly, was appointed on September 28 to head the inquiry.

At the time, Mbeki cited a breakdown in the relationship between Pikoli and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development Brigitte Mabandla as the reason for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head’s suspension.

Mbeki suspended Selebi in January and Selebi then went on an ”extended leave of absence”. Selebi was charged with corruption and defeating the ends of justice at the end of January.

However, Director General in the Presidency Reverend Frank Chikane told the commission that ”it was far from the truth” that Pikoli was suspended for arresting Selebi.

”At no stage did the president or myself say no official in government could be arrested,” he said.

He said the problem was ”the way in which it was going to be done”.

This, especially when dealing with ”sensitive matters of crime intelligence and military intelligence and so on”.

Chikane told the commission he had facilitated an NDPP request for documents from criminal intelligence. He was therefore surprised when the NDPP asked for a meeting with Mbeki. He presumed it wanted to hand over a report on the outcome of its findings.

”Instead of a report … [Pikoli] arrived to say ‘President I have now acquired the warrant’; it was contained in a black bag.”

Chikane — who was present at the meeting — said Pikoli’s attitude appeared to be one of: ”It doesn’t matter what process you set up, I’m going to do it my way.”

This was in spite of Chikane having pointed out to him that he would need the assistance of the Commander-in-Chief, Mbeki, to do so.

Chikane also expressed concerns about the manner in which the NDPP went about conducting search and seizures at the Union Buildings in Pretoria and Tuynhuys in Cape Town.

He had asked Pikoli whether the operatives who conducted the search had been vetted by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). Pikoli told him he was unsure and would ask Gauteng Scorpions’ head Gerrie Nel.

Pikoli did not even know who was going to the Union Buildings, Chikane told the commission.

”What I expected, if you are going to search the office of the president of the country, you make sure everything is done in accordance with the law,” he said under cross-examination by Tim Bruinders for Pikoli.

The NDPP had failed to take into account that its operative and the private company engaged to carry out the search and seizures needed to be vetted by the NIA. — Sapa