Mbeki hits back at interference comments

President Thabo Mbeki and his Cabinet will seek legal advice on Judge Chris Nicholson’s comments about political interference in African National Congress president Jacob Zuma’s prosecution.

Nicholson found in the Pietermaritzburg High Court that in terms of the law, Zuma should have been allowed to make representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) when it decided to make an about-turn on a previous public statement that he would not be charged.

Zuma had faced 16 charges, including racketeering, corruption and fraud, while French arms company Thint faced charges of racketeering, corruption and money laundering.

However, the judge said there was some merit in Zuma’s contention that there was a political conspiracy tied to rivalry between himself and President Thabo Mbeki.

Nicholson criticised the close relationship between the justice ministry and the NPA, which he said was supposed to make completely independent prosecutorial decisions.

“Cabinet respects the judiciary and its decisions,” government spokesperson Themba Maseko told a media briefing on Thursday following the Cabinet’s regular meeting on Wednesday.

“However, Cabinet does not accept the suggestion that either the president or the executive interfered with the prosecuting decisions of the National Prosecuting Authority regarding the prosecution of any person or persons,” he said.

Maseko said the Constitution and NPA Act give the minister of justice and constitutional development political oversight over the NPA. However, the minister does not participate in decisions about individual prosecutions.

Therefore, the suggestion that the interactions between the minister and the national director of public prosecutions constituted interference was not correct.

The “untested inference” that there was political interference with the prosecuting decisions of the NPA in this case, or any other, was untrue, unfounded and “does not hold water”.

“Cabinet has decided to seek legal advice on the inferences made by Judge Nicholson that President Thabo Mbeki and the executive interfered with the NPA regarding the decision to prosecute Mr Jacob Zuma,” Maseko said.

This does not mean the Cabinet rejected Nicholson’s judgement, he said. The legal opinion sought will only be on how the inference made can be corrected.
Essentially, the Cabinet wants the comments removed from the judgement, which is a public record.

“The judge may not have had all the facts in front of him when he reached that conclusion,” he said. The Cabinet wants to present the facts as they are.

The judgement (PDF)

Read Judge Chris Nicholson’s full judgement

Asked whether the Cabinet had discussed the clamour from some quarters for Mbeki to be removed from office, Maseko said it had not.

This is a matter that has to be “tackled at a political level” by the ruling party, whose national executive committee will be meeting this weekend to discuss it.

Any pending decision by the ANC is mere speculation at this stage, he said, and the work and business of the government is continuing as normal.

Should the ANC make any such decision, the Cabinet will reconvene to consider the matter, Maseko said.—Sapa

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