/ 29 May 2008

Disbanding Scorpions ‘will protect politicians’

The disbanding of the Scorpions will protect corrupt and criminal politicians from prosecution, the deputy director of Public Prosecutions warned on Thursday.

The Directorate of Special Operations (DSO), also known as the Scorpions, would lose its ability to independently investigate government officials if it was incorporated into the police, said Billy Downer, SC.

”In my view, you want to free your investigators from the political control of the police,” Downer said at a PricewaterhouseCoopers conference in Johannesburg on economic crime.

President Thabo Mbeki in February announced that the Scorpions would be dissolved to merge with the South African Police Service. However, Hugh Glenister, a Johannesburg businessman, is planning to challenge this decision in the Constitutional Court.

Downer said there was nothing wrong with the fact that the national police commissioner reported to the Safety and Security Minister, as was the case in most countries around the world.

But that did imply political control over the police and another independent investigating body was needed to investigate and prosecute complex crimes and corruption.

”That is why the FBI was created … Prosecutorial independence is entrenched in the Constitution.

”Why is independence so important? To optimise investigations and prosecutions when those within government, or who exercise power, or have influence over the executive, themselves commit crimes,” said Downer, who is involved in the corruption case against African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma.

”Where the executive does commit crimes, there is a natural tendency for the executive not to want to be investigated.”

Downer said the best model to fight complex crime was an integrated one where the investigators and prosecutors worked closely together from the start. This generated faster and better results compared to the traditional model where investigators work independently before handing over to a prosecutor.

”The delays and difficulties in this divisive model actually cause good cases to die. The difference between the two models is not a matter of convenience. It’s a matter of life and death… cases die,” said Downer.

He cited the current case against former Fidentia boss J Arthur Brown, who is facing fraud and theft charges, as an example of the success of an integrated approach between investigators and prosecutors.

”The case was taken to court immediately on the prominent charges while at the same stage other investigations are running. It keeps the defence running, it is terrible for the accused and it is wonderful for crime prevention. The investigator knows from the beginning what the prosecutor wants.”

However, Downer said the defence could argue that the prosecutor was biased when he or she became involved in investigations.

He said this was argued by Zuma’s legal counsel in the case relating to the seizure of documents in the corruption case against Zuma.

The state wanted the diary of Alain Thetard, the former chief executive of Thales International’s local subsidiary Thint, which details a meeting in March 2000 between him, Zuma and convicted Durban businessman Schabir Shaik.

The NPA alleges that an agreement on a R500 000 a year bribe for Zuma was reached at the meeting.

Downer said he waited outside the office building in Mauritius while the investigator searched in vain for the diary.

”I said to the investigator, ‘for goodness sake’ — in much stronger words — ‘go to Mr Thetard and ask him for his diary’.”

He said the diary was seized and despite objections by Zuma’s lawyers, a court found that even though the prosecutor and investigator were working together in this case, ”each stayed on his side of the fence”.

”The DSO model remains the answer,” he concluded. – Sapa