Prosecutor red-flagged Bosasa probe

Hot seat: Lawrence Mrwebi gave evidence at the Mokgoro inquiry and denied allegations that he took bribes for details about an NPA probe into Bosasa. (Delwyn Verasamy)

Hot seat: Lawrence Mrwebi gave evidence at the Mokgoro inquiry and denied allegations that he took bribes for details about an NPA probe into Bosasa. (Delwyn Verasamy)

The prosecutor in charge of the Bosasa prosecution had in 2013 raised concerns about the presence of Jackie Lepinka — executive manager in the office of the national director of public prosecutions (NDPP) — at briefings about the Bosasa case, the Mokgoro inquiry heard this week.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s Bosasa prosecution — triggered by a 2009 Special Investigating Unit (SIU) report on a “corrupt relationship” between Bosasa and the department of correctional services — has been delayed for almost a decade, one of a number of SIU investigations that were referred to the NPA that but went nowhere for years.

At the Zondo commission into state capture, former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi implicated Lepinka in a plan to stymie the NPA’s case against the controversial firm. He said monthly amounts were paid for information relating to the case. Lepinka, as well as the then acting national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, and the head of the NPA’s specialised commercial crime unit, Lawrence Mrwebi, were the alleged beneficiaries.

But, on Wednesday at the Mokgoro inquiry, Mrwebi emphatically denied receiving any bribe or having any arrangement with Bosasa.
Such an arrangement would be “tantamount to spitting into the grave of my departed parents and great-grandparents. I would never do that,” he said.

The inquiry, chaired by retired Constitutional Court Justice Yvonne Mokgoro, is looking into whether Mrwebi and Jiba are fit for office after being criticised in a number of judgments in high-profile, politically sensitive cases. The two inquiries intersected with Agrizzi’s claims, although he has declined to appear before the Mokgoro inquiry on advice that he may incriminate himself. He was arrested earlier this month on charges of corruption and money laundering. The charges stemmed from the SIU report.

On Wednesday Mrwebi testified that he had encouraged the Bosasa prosecution and submitted 401 pages of documents and correspondence dated from October 2012 to September 2018 to show this.

His counsel, Mervyn Rip SC, said these documents showed how Mrwebi was “looking for reports and indications of what was happening with the matter in order to encourage the progression of the matter” and “encouraging further prosecution and investigation”.

Mrwebi also testified about a stand-off between the prosecutor in charge of the Bosasa investigation, Marijke de Kock, and Lepinka. This occurred after De Kock was accusedin September 2013 of ignoring a request from Jiba to brief the top echelons of the NPA about the progress of the Bosasa prosecution — which was taken as insubordination.

In an email from Lepinka to Mrwebi about the incident, Lepinka said: “It may well be necessary that Adv de Kock is reminded that Jackie [Lepinka] executes directives of the NDPP by the very nature of the position in this office.”

Mrwebi also testified that Lepinka would have had access to all the correspondence that flowed to Jiba. When De Kock was asked to account for her refusal, she sent a written memorandum that refers to the “sensitivities around the R2-billion Bosasa investigation”.

In the memorandum De Kock made note of the “unusual set of circumstances involving the reporting lines and other security arrangements” in the NPA and the office of the NDPP. One sensitivity was that a Bosasa subsidiary, Bosasa Security, provided security at the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit in Pretoria and “personal and corporate security to the National Prosecuting Authority and the national director”.

Nomgcobo Jiba (Delwyn Verasamy)

Another was that Lepinka’s employment with the department of correctional services as former prisons commissioner Linda Mti’s private secretary “corresponded with the critical period of the Bosasa investigation, namely March 2004 until December 2006”. Mti was one of the accused in the matter, said De Kock.

De Kock attached Bosasa correspondence that she said showed that Mti and the other accused — former department of correctional services chief financial officer Patrick Gillingham — interacted with Lepinka. “These are not the only documents that specifically involve Ms Lepinka. Other documents form part of the criminal investigation mentioned above,” said De Kock.

Mrwebi said that when De Kock’s concern was expressed to Jiba, Lepinka was then excluded from meetings about Bosasa. This was confirmed by Jiba, who added that she found De Kock’s concerns “weird” but agreed to exclude Lepinka “for the sake of progress”.

According to Agrizzi, Mti handed him a host of documents, including internal NPA memos and correspondence, from either Lepinka, Mrwebi “and/or” Jiba. He submitted these to the Zondo commission. The last of the documents was dated August 2013, suggesting that, after De Kock made her concerns known, Bosasa’s source of information dried up.

One of the documents submitted by Agrizzi was an email from Lepinka to the NPA’s deputy national director, Silas Ramaite, and Mrwebi, in which she said that Jiba wanted a progress report on five high-profile cases.

The email reads: “In terms of the Bosasa case please be advised that this matter needs to [be] finalised ASAP as the matter has been investigated for many years and from the submitted reports it is clear that there is no evidence and or prospect of a successful prosecution.”

Jiba also emphatically denied Agrizzi’s claims when she gave evidence on Thursday.

Agrizzi told the Zondo commission that Mti was Bosasa’s go-between in its exchanges with Lepinka, Jiba and Mrwebi. Mti was also arrested earlier this month on charges relating to the department’s dealings with Bosasa.

Agrizzi alleged that Mti said he met the trio weekly. At these meetings they provided Mti with details of the status of the investigation and the prosecution, in return for which they received monthly cash payments, Agrizzi said. Both Mrwebi and Jiba were emphatic that they had never met Mti.

Agrizzi said some of the documents obtained from the NPA would be used to figure out who would be subpoenaed to give evidence against Bosasa. The witnesses would be approached by Bosasa officials and bribed with “wads of cash” to change their statements, he said.

Mrwebi said Lepinka had been secretary in the NDPP’s office from the time when Mokotedi Mpshe had been the acting NDPP. She was removed from that post by former NDPP Mxolisi Nxasana, whose bitter feud with Jiba was well known. At the time, IOL reported that Lepinka had been locked out of her office on the instructions of Nxasana, who viewed her as one of Jiba’s “closest aides”.

When contacted on Thursday, Lepinka’s lawyers said their client has never received any payments from anyone for the purpose of any privileged or confidential information related to any prosecution.

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit

Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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