/ 30 May 2008

Hlophe accused of Zuma interference

Cape Judge President John Hlophe has been accused of attempting to influence the Constitutional Court’s decision over search-and-seizure raids carried out by the Scorpions on properties of African National Congress (ANC) president Jacob Zuma and French arms manufacturing giant Thint.

A Constitutional Court statement released on Friday afternoon said that a complaint had been referred to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) following allegations that ”Judge John Hlophe has approached some of the judges of the Constitutional Court in an improper attempt to influence this court’s pending judgement in one or more cases”.

The statement did not reveal which of the court’s 11 judges had allegedly been approached by Hlophe, but it did say that ”the complaint relates to the matters of Thint [Pty] Ltd v National Director of Public Prosecutions and Others [CCT 89/07], JG Zuma and Another v National Director of Public Prosecutions and Others [CCT 91/07], Thint Holdings [South Africa] [Pty] Ltd and Another v National Director of Public Prosecutions [CCT 90/07] and JG Zuma v National Director of Public Prosecutions [CCT 92/07].”

The cases were heard by the court in Johannesburg between March 11 and 14, and related to controversial search-and-seizure raids at properties belonging to Zuma in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, as well as at the Durban office of his attorney, Michael Hulley, on August 18 2005.

A ruling is yet to be made.

Zuma, Hulley and Thint have argued that they should be granted leave to appeal against a November 8 2006 majority judgement of the Supreme Court of Appeal that upheld the raids.

The raids were carried out two months after Judge Hilary Squires convicted Zuma’s former confidante and financial adviser Schabir Shaik on two counts of corruption and one count of fraud in the Durban High Court.

The corruption charges related to Shaik’s attempt to solicit a R500 000-a-year bribe from French arms manufacturing giant Thales International (formerly Thomson CSF) for Zuma.

‘I find the whole thing a bit bizarre’

Hlophe could not be reached for comment. The South African Press Association was told that he had left his office in Cape Town and would only be available again on Monday.

However, Cape Talk radio presenter John Maytham said on air that Hlophe had spoken to a reporter for the station about the referral to the JSC.

”He did deny it in the bluntest of terms and said he never approached anybody,” Maytham said.

The Constitutional Court statement said: ”We stress that there is no suggestion that any of the litigants in the cases referred to … was aware of or instigated this action.” It also said: ”The judges of this court view conduct of this nature in a very serious light.”

National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Tlali Tlali said he had not seen the statement and could not therefore comment.

In a statement released by the Cape Bar Council, chairperson advocate Rudi van Rooyen and vice-chairperson advocate Ashton Schippers called for Hlophe to stand down ”pending the determination of the complaint by the JSC”.

”As sad a day it is for the judiciary when one of its members behaves in a reprehensible way, it is heartening that the judges of the Constitutional Court have spoken out swiftly and unequivocally in condemning behaviour which is tantamount to an attempt to defeat the ends of justice.”

Hulley said he had not seen the statement and that ”I find the whole thing a bit bizarre”. He said he would not be in a position to comment until the JSC had released its findings and ”when we know what the full nature of the complaint is”.

Leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) Helen Zille said the allegation ”shakes the very foundations of our constitutional democracy”.

”If the JSC confirms that Judge Hlophe abused his position in this way, then he must be dismissed from the bench and face the full force of the law,” she said.

”The allegation raises the possibility that Judge Hlophe acted at the behest either of Jacob Zuma or his political allies. This is not implausible given Zuma’s numerous attempts to avoid justice to date. The DA will follow this line of questioning at the JSC to ascertain whether or not Zuma or any of his representatives exerted pressure on Judge Hlophe,” she said.

JSC spokesperson Marumo Moerane said he could not immediately confirm receipt of the complaint as he had just arrived back in the country. — Sapa