Drama at Breytenbach hearingComment on this story
The chairman in Glynnis Breytenbach's disciplinary inquiry recused himself on Friday after accusing the NPA of letting a witness run its case.
“I'm convinced that this application... it comes from Mr Mendelow,” chairman Sandile July said.
“I have never heard (of) a situation where a complainant would be in charge of a hearing, telling the employer how the hearing should go.”
He was referring to Ronald Mendelow, a lawyer for Imperial Crown Trading (ICT), who had testified from Tuesday to Thursday at the National Prosecuting Authority's (NPA) offices in Silverton, Pretoria.
On Thursday, the NPA said it would apply for the removal of July. July said on Friday he would recuse himself.
NPA counsel William Mokhari said July had to be removed as the firm he worked for, Werksmans, had represented steel company ArcelorMittal SA and that this could create a perception of bias.
The NPA said it suspended Breytenbach for failing to act impartially in her investigation of a dispute between ICT and Sishen/Kumba Iron Ore over mining rights in the Northern Cape.
The mining rights in question used to belong to ArcelorMittal SA, which had an interest in who would take over the rights.
Mendelow sent a letter of complaint about Breytenbach to the then National Director of Public Prosecutions Menzi Simelane on October 31 last year, alleging she favoured Sishen in her probe.
July said the NPA had not called for his removal because of his links to Werksmans.
He said he had told both parties of Werksman's work for ArcelorMittal, and that he had explained he was not involved in that case in any way.
At the start of the hearing on July 23, both parties said this would not be a problem.
July said Mendelow wanted him removed because he had asked questions during Mendelow's testimony on Wednesday.
“This has everything to do with the questions I asked on August 14 when Mr Mendelow was testifying,” July said.
He said the affidavit filed by the NPA calling for his removal mentioned questions he had asked. He said the affidavit's facts were incorrect and that he might challenge it.
He said his questions had made Mendelow uncomfortable.
“I hope this hearing going forward is not going to be controlled by people who happen to be complainants and then tell the employer how to run the disciplinary,” July said.
It was his right and responsibility as chairman to show an interest, he said.
Breytenbach's counsel, Wim Trengove SC called the NPA's application a “travesty of justice” in “a long line of abuses by the NPA”.
He said July had been gentle with Mendelow.
“Your role was... extraordinarily gentle and tolerant of a witness who came here, took control of his own evidence, and gave us a lecture over three days of how the suspect in a serious criminal case believes the investigation against him should be undertaken,” Trengove said.
He called on the NPA to drop the case against Breytenbach.
“It is time for the national director of public prosecutions to acknowledge that this has been a mistake, for them to reinstate Ms Breytenbach and terminate this inquiry.”
A new chairman would be appointed soon, Mokhari said.
July was the second chairman, after Barry Madolo recused himself.
Mohari said Madolo had recused himself when he learned of Breytenbach's defence in the case.
Breytenbach said acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Nomgcobo Jiba suspended her in an attempt to stop her from prosecuting former police crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli on fraud and other charges.
Madolo had sat in a meeting with senior NPA management where Mdluli had been discussed, Mokhari said.
Breytenbach was suspended as regional head of the NPA's specialised commercial crime unit on April 30.
She has pleaded not guilty to all 16 charges laid against her by the NPA.
It was not immediately known when the inquiry would resume. - Sapa