Simelane caught up in Selebi fallout

Jackie Selebi, the former police chief, may not be the only victim of both his corruption trial and the previous administration’s efforts to save him.

Prosecutions boss Menzi Simelane has a week left to submit reasons to the Johannesburg Bar why he should remain an advocate in good standing in light of adverse findings made against him by the Ginwala Inquiry.

Senior advocate Pat Ellis of the Pretoria Bar submitted a formal complaint against Simelane to the General Council of the Bar (GCB) in December last year after the release of former speaker Frene Ginwala’s report on the conduct of Vusi Pikoli, Simelane’s predecessor at the national prosecuting authority (NPA).

Former president Thabo Mbeki suspended Pikoli in September 2007 after he obtained warrants to arrest Selebi and search his house.

In her final report Ginwala found Pikoli to be a fit and proper person to head the NPA, but then-president Kgalema Motlanthe nevertheless fired Pikoli based on criticism in Ginwala’s report.

The former speaker criticised Pikoli for not giving Mbeki the two weeks he allegedly asked for to prepare the country and police for Selebi’s arrest.

Simelane, who was the director general of justice at the time, presented the government’s case against Pikoli at the inquiry and was slammed by Ginwala as unreliable and arrogant.

She also found Simelane may have been acting unlawfully when he drafted a letter for former justice minister, Brigitte Mabandla, instructing Pikoli to cease the investigation into Selebi until she was satisfied about the merits of the case.

A subsequent investigation into Simelane’s conduct at the inquiry by the public service commission (PSC) found he should have faced a formal hearing, but Justice Minister Jeff Radebe overruled this and recommended him to President Jacob Zuma in November last year to be appointed Pikoli’s successor.

In his complaint to the GCB Ellis outlined 17 matters for investigation emanating from Ginwala’s report.

It was subsequently established that Simelane was still a member of the Johannesburg Bar and this body took over the probe from the GCB.

According to advocate Craig Watt-Pringle SC, chairman of the Johannesburg Bar’s professional subcommittee, Simelane was asked by letter on May 7 to respond to allegations “which may impact on his professional standing as an advocate”.
According to the rules of the subcommittee this means it has already found there was merit in the complaint against Simelane and that he should be afforded an opportunity to respond in writing.

At Simelane’s request the date on which he is required to respond was extended to July 15, Thursday next week.

After receiving Simelane’s response, Watt-Pringle and his sub-committee will decide whether to convene a ­formal inquiry.

The Mail & Guardian understands that one of the reasons that will be advanced by Simelane is that he was not acting in the capacity of an advocate when he testified before Ginwala, but as a civil servant.

The worst-case scenario for Simelane would be if the Bar recommends that he be struck from the roll of advocates.

Zuma would then be faced with the situation that his prosecutions boss is not regarded as a fit and proper person to be an advocate.

  • Meanwhile, Selebi will face an uphill battle to stay out of prison when he returns to the South Gauteng High Court on Wednesday next week for sentencing. According to minimum-sentencing legislation, a law enforcement officer convicted of corruption involving amounts in excess of R10000 should be jailed for at least 15 years.

  • In a related development, Simelane’s office told the M&G this week that the NPA boss would not change his mind about replacing chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel and his team to prosecute Glenn Agliotti for the murder of mining boss Brett Kebble. In March Simelane removed Nel and his team, who had been working on the case since early 2006, from the Kebble murder trial and the case against former crime intelligence boss Mulangi Mphego of defeating the ends of justice.

    Simelane’s reason was that Nel and his team were too busy with Selebi’s prosecution to attend to the Agliotti and Mphego cases. He appointed a new team that had to be briefed from scratch on both matters.

    This led to the case against Mphego being withdrawn in May. Agliotti goes on trial on July 26. His advocate, Laurence Hodes, told the M&G this week there had been no correspondence from the NPA indicating that it was not ready to proceed.

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