'The NPA is very upset about it'

Jacob Zuma’s prosecutor, Billy Downer, is not a happy man. But he won’t be quitting any time soon, he tells Adriaan Basson

Do you feel betrayed?
Well, there are two aspects—the decision to drop the charges [against Jacob Zuma] and the recordings. Our recommendation [that the prosecution should continue] is on record, it’s quite clear.
The boss [Mokotedi Mpshe] very fairly reported it, as Bulelani [Ngcuka] did in 2003, when he announced he would not prosecute Zuma. On the tapes—it all depends whether it’s true or not. But ja, the whole of the NPA [National Prosecuting Agency] is very upset about it.

Were you shocked to see the transcripts of the recordings?
Well, we all were. We were very shocked—we’ve never heard of anything like this before.

If you look at the transcripts, are there things that make sense now? Was there any pressure on you to do certain things?
I can’t get into this debate at all, and frankly it is not a debate which could be fruitfully conducted now. It needs further investigation and analysis. I can’t make that call now at all. The bosses might have made that call already, but not for me.

Are your hands clean?
Ja, throughout we conducted this thing only taking into account the prosecutorial imperative of the evidence that was shown to court. Politically, all of us are basically politically neutral.

Why would you prefer a court to decide on the legality and implication of the tapes?
Until you’ve got a proper investigation, we think it’s difficult to adjudicate these things properly.

Wouldn’t it have embarrassed the state if Zuma’s legal team had submitted the recordings to court?

It’s not a question of whether it would’ve been embarrassing because the truth must out. So if they’re true, one has to deal with the embarrassment and make sure that the thing is properly investigated and that proper judgment is made about how it affects the case. It’s more embarrassing to try to cover something up.

Would you like a conversation with Leonard McCarthy about the tapes?
Yes, very much so. Remember that he was a friend of mine. He remains a friend of mine. Not a personal friend; we never had anything to do with each other socially, but professionally.

Are you disappointed in Bulelani Ngcuka?
It depends. If they [the recordings] are true, if everything is valid as it seems to be, then yes I would be disappointed.

Are you still convinced of the Zuma case’s merits?
Ja, as advocate Mpshe said, we didn’t think that the representations added anything specifically to the merits, so we’re confident that we made the right decision.

What is the way forward on the arms deal investigation? Should we have a judicial commission of inquiry?
I repeat what Mpshe said, that there should be a full investigation and that these things should be investigated to the very fullest. It could be a commission of inquiry, it could be a judge, as long as it is investigated to its fullest.

Does Mpshe’s decision in any way affect the Shaik case?
No, the Shaik conviction and sentences have been litigated all the way to the Constitutional Court, both in respect of the criminal matter and asset forfeiture. And they have been confirmed all the way. No doubt some people will try to make something of it, but it doesn’t seem like a very fruitful avenue.

What will you tell witnesses who were willing to testify against Zuma?
What can I say? Some of them have been through enormous personal sacrifices in assisting us. And for them to see it ending in this way—it’s embarrassing. I would understand if they feel extraordinarily disappointed and even angry.

Do you see a future for yourself in the NPA?
You must remember that in all corporate decisions there will inevitably be some disagreement. So it’s nothing unusual in a corporate decision to get different points of view, and the boss’s call is the one that counts. I was very happy at the NPA and I remain happy.

Will you have confidential conversations on your cellphone from now on?
You laugh, but actually, all that’s happened now is that I will intersperse my conversations with remarks to the person who’s doing the recording. If something controversial or vaguely debatable comes up I’ll say it, but preface it or end it with something like: ‘Well sergeant, I hope you’re taking this down properly and remember, when you take this down, remember that I’ve said previously something else which qualifies it’.

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