Pikoli defends decision to arrest Selebi

Suspended prosecutions boss Vusi Pikoli said he did not intend turning the country into a ”wasteland” due to the perceived backlash caused by arresting police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi.

He told the Ginwala inquiry into his fitness to hold office on Tuesday that he believed one week was enough time for President Thabo Mbeki to deal with any security concerns and was not informed after the initial meeting that Mbeki needed more time.

”He could have said on the 22nd or the 23rd of September, ‘look Vusi, I have really tried to create this but it looks like the week you have given me is unreasonable’. I would have considered it,” Pikoli said.

Pikoli was suspended on September 23, a week after telling Mbeki that he had obtained search and arrest warrants against Selebi.

Selebi has since appeared in court and is expected to go on trial in April 2009 to face corruption and defeating the ends of justice charges.

Pikoli said that the National Prosecuting Authority’s work would not have been compromised if Selebi — the head of Interpol — had been arrested as a ”Joe Soap”.

”But we needed to do what we needed to do,” he said, adding that everyone was equal before the law.

He said that in the week before his suspension the issue was not about prosecutorial independence, because the decision had already been taken to prosecute Selebi.

It was more about not having a crisis or an area of embarrassment for the country.

Mbeki had already hinted at the possibility of angry policemen.

”As the national director, obviously I wouldn’t want this country reduced to a wasteland,” he said.

He had taken an oath of office and had responsibilities under the Constitution.

”It would be like saying the [police] national commissioner can’t be arrested because police officers will cause mayhem. We must close down as the NPA if we are going to be helpless in the face of these threats.”

He was responding to questions from inquiry assessor, Ismail Semenya, on whether one or two weeks’ notice given to Mbeki would have made any difference to the outcome of the case.

Pikoli said that once a warrant was secured, it was important to execute it quickly, to retain the element of surprise.

He believed that by asking his director, Frank Chikane, to arrange a national security cluster meeting on the matter, Mbeki was conceding to
one week.

He denied earlier suggestions that he had lied about the time frame discussion with Mbeki.

Late in the afternoon, Gerrie Nel, the regional head of the Directorate of Special Operations in Gauteng, spoke of a search at former deputy president Jacob Zuma’s office at the Union Buildings in the course of an investigation into a controversial multibillion-rand arms deal.

The state has led evidence that the searches were conducted without regard for the buildings’ status as a national key point, which houses classified documents.

Nel said that he met with Chikane two days before the searches.

On the morning of the search they discussed with Chikane who to serve the warrant on, what the search process would entail and what they would do with documents pointed out by a presidency advocate as ”in dispute” as to their relevance, or to their being classified.

He said the search was proceeding well but then agents from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) arrived.

”Initially it was an easy search. People agreed on documents and the process wasn’t that difficult,” said Nel. ”Then the NIA arrived and there were arguments about most of the documents people wanted to access.”

The search was conducted by the KPMG because they had worked on the trial of Zuma’s financial adviser Schabir Shaik who was convicted of
fraud relating to a bribe allegedly received by Zuma in return for protection during an arms-deal probe. A computer firm had then made copies of the hard drives.

The inquiry has heard that neither KPMG nor the computer firm had security vetting but Nel said there had been no breach of security.

”No such breach has ever been brought to my attention,” he said. ”If there was any dispute about a document, the document was sealed.”

The NIA later made copies of the hard drives and these were sealed and placed in a DSO safe in Chikane’s office, where they remain.

The validity of the searches conducted that day are still awaiting judgement by the Constitutional Court after Zuma challenged them.

The inquiry continues on Wednesday. – Sapa

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