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A heated disagreement between suspended prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach and commercial crimes head Lawrence Mrwebi about withdrawing charges against former crime intelligence boss General Richard Mdluli is the reason behind her suspension.
This was the argument of Breytenbach’s counsel, Wim Trengove SC, during the continuation of her internal disciplinary hearing on Thursday. He was cross-examining the acting senior manager of the NPA’s integrity unit, Hercules Wasserman.
Trengove told the committee that Breytenbach and Mrwebi clashed several times during November and December last year as Mrwebi wanted to have charges against Mdluli withdrawn.
Breytenbach did not agree and insisted that the prosecution should proceed. Despite her insistence, charges against Mdluli were provisionally withdrawn on December 14. Mdluli faced charges of fraud, corruption and murder.
A memorandum sent to the national director of public prosecutions, Nomgcobo Jiba, in January called for Breytenbach to be removed from the Kumba Iron Ore/Sishen and Imperial Crown Trading (ICT) case.
Trengove said the memorandum was written by Mrwebi who was aware that she had already been removed from the case in November last year. This was following a complaint in October by attorneys who acted on behalf of ICT.
The committee heard that Breytenbach had not been given adequate reasons for her suspension even after a request by her lawyer, Gerhard Wagenaar.
A response on February 6 from the acting NPA CEO, Karen van Rensburg, read: “The allegations… relate to the execution of her duties as senior deputy director and public prosecutor in the Kimberley case.”
The letter alleged that Breytenbach was aware of the facts and the reason for her suspension. Trengove called the allegations made in Van Rensburg’s letter “cryptic”.
Wasserman admitted that Breytenbach was not given the full details of the allegations against her and she was only informed of details surrounding the allegations on April 18.
Trengove argued there was no reason to suspend Breytenbach in November, and since then “nothing has changed”.
“It is inexplicable that they should want to suspend her now and the only explanation for this can be Mrwebi’s memorandum,” he said.
Breytenbach got the letter of intention to suspend her on February 2.
“It seems as if Mrwebi’s suggestion to have her suspended was implemented,” Trengove said.
Wasserman was given a mandate to investigate the allegations, made by Mendelow Jacobs Attorneys against Breytenbach, in November.
On Tuesday, Breytenbach pleaded not guilty to 15 charges after she was officially suspended on April 30. It is alleged she acted partially when investigating the Kumba Iron Ore/Sishen and ICT case and that she had improper relations with Kumba’s senior counsel, Mike Hellens.
She is adamant that she was suspended to prevent her from prosecuting Mdluli. The NPA has denied the allegations and claims her suspension was caused by her unprofessional conduct in the mining dispute.
Earlier on Thursday, Trengove responded to the allegations that Breytenbach had colluded with Hellens and had failed to act impartially during the Kumba Iron Ore/Sishen and ICT case.
Trengove argued that Breytenbach did the right thing in asking for Hellens’s help when drafting the legal documents, which were described as “complex”.
“It would have been irresponsible for Colonel Sandra Van Wyk, investigating officer in the case, and advocate Breytenbach not to ask for advocate Hellens’s assistance, given his background in the Kumba review,” Trengove said.
Trengove asked Wasserman if he knew it was “stock, standard practice” to seek help from a legal expert in big commercial investigations.
Wasserman admitted he had never before worked on major commercial probes.
The hearing will continue on Friday.