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17 July 2011 at 19:57 - Posted by Anonymous

Knives out for Willie Hofmeyr


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SA's top prosecutors are in a fight to the death over the future of corruption-buster Willie Hofmeyr, who heads the Asset Forfeiture Unit and the Special Investigating Unit.

The Sunday Times can reveal that new corruption claims have been levelled at Hofmeyr and top NPA officials thought to be close to him.

NPA officials in various provinces claim the charges were stage-managed by NPA boss Menzi Simelane.

The Sunday Times has established that Simelane:

Referred new corruption claims by billionaire Dave King against Hofmeyr to police;
Launched a probe into AFU KwaZulu-Natal head Knorx Molelle, a key Hofmeyr subordinate chasing assets in the high-profile Intaka fraud case;
Appointed inexperienced prosecutors to the Intaka fraud case, involving ANC politicians John Block, Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni; and
Delayed the execution of arrest warrants in the case, infuriating Hawks investigators.
"They want to close us down - the whole Asset Forfeiture Unit," said a senior prosecution staffer, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We're f****d, just like the DSO (the Scorpions)," added another.

Prosecutors fear that the AFU's actions angered senior politicians, especially in KwaZulu-Natal.

However, Simelane told the Sunday Times he was "not aware" of widespread unhappiness in his ranks, while Minister of Justice Jeff Radebe said there was no crisis in the institution.

"I am not aware of any tensions between (Simelane) and any of his members of staff ... it is my considered view that the NPA is on course, both from its strategic positioning, as well as operationally," said Radebe.

While political leaders refuse to acknowledge any problem, senior staff, including Hofmeyr, are battling for survival.

This week, King confirmed he had laid criminal charges of corruption against Hofmeyr last year after making representations to Simelane.

The NPA last year torpedoed a plea deal in which King, first arrested in 2002 on 322 charges of tax evasion, would have paid R630-million to settle the case, rather than the R2.3-billion the state claimed.

But, as part of the plea negotiations, the state's prosecutors asked King to withdraw a number of complaints he'd lodged against them at the Bar Council - something King saw as an "improper" request, which had been supported by Hofmeyr.

This week, Hofmeyr told the Sunday Times: "If I had believed that I had done anything wrong, I would have offered to resign my position or asked to be placed on suspension.

"However, I strongly believed that there was no substance in the complaint and was reinforced in my view by an opinion from a senior counsel."

Though Hofmeyr believed a panel of senior lawyers should have probed King's claims, Simelane's office instead referred the case to the police.

On Friday, Simelane said this was because "the NPA has no mandate to investigate such complaints".

However, this comes on the heels of further charges of corruption laid against Hofmeyr by one of his staff, a Nehawu member, in May. According to these charges, Hofmeyr improperly authorised R3-million in additional spending as part of a R14-million upgrade of the SIU offices, and that the SIU irregularly contributed money to the Anti-Corruption Task Team.

Hofmeyr said he was "astonished that the Nehawu member has laid a criminal charge about the SIU's involvement in the Anti-Corruption Task Team, given Nehawu's own strong stance against corruption".

Several senior NPA officials told the Sunday Times that the "poisonous" environment in the institution was tearing it apart.

"Nobody knows who'll be next," said a senior prosecutor this week. "There is an atmos-phere of paranoia right now."

A number of senior prosecutors have quit since Simelane's appointment, while many of those remaining describe how he interfered in several high-profile cases, giving orders on how specific cases should be handled, and removing prosecutors on a whim.

Asked about this, Simelane said he had "authority to make inputs, like any other person working on cases, and give guidance where necessary".

However, three sources close to the Intaka investigation told the Sunday Times that Simelane personally intervened to delay the execution of arrest warrants for KZN speaker Nkonyeni and economic development MEC Mabuyakhulu for their alleged role in the Intaka corruption case.

Intaka is owned by Gaston Savoi, the Uruguayan businessman accused of bribing senior ANC politicians to approve fraudulently inflated government tenders worth hundreds of millions of rands.

Though the warrants were finally signed on July 4, Simelane admitted that he then "requested the police to hold back the execution of the warrants ... to enable the prosecuting team to prepare the relevant charge sheet".

Neither Mabuyakhulu nor Nkonyeni have been arrested.

Prosecutors say that Simelane also appointed a junior prosecutor - who has no fraud experience and only ever handled murder and robbery cases - to handle the complex corruption trial.

Asked about this, Simelane said: "We have full confidence in all prosecutors assigned to deal with the Intaka case", adding that all prosecutors were appointed by the regional official.

At the same time, Molelle, seen as one of Hofmeyr's loyal lieutenants, is being investigated internally, along with several of his staff, over what officials say are trumped-up charges.

NPA spokesman Mthunzi Mhaga confirmed the NPA's probe into Molelle, but said he could not divulge details. Molelle declined to comment.

The Sunday Times has learnt the charges relate to Molelle's decision to abandon an application to revoke bail for Savoi.

Simelane has taken a keen interest in this case, which has implicated senior politicians, including Block, KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize and suspended Ithala Bank boss Sipho Shabalala.

"It's blatantly obvious he's out to nail Willie - and that nailing Knorx is part of this whole shebang," said an NPA staffer.

The unprecedented pressure on Hofmeyr comes days after public protector Thuli Madonsela reportedly faced "arrest" over spurious corruption claims while probing dodgy police lease deals sanctioned by police commissioner General Bheki Cele. The SIU assisted in Mandonsela's investigation.

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