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In this second extract from My Second Initation by former National Prosecutions Authority head Vusi Pikoli and journalist Mandy Wiener, Pikoli describes how former president Thabo Mbeki lost his cool over Jackie Selebi.
Over the following months I continued to brief the president and the justice minister on developments in the Jackie Selebi investigation. Glenn Agliotti had agreed to testify against the commissioner and had signed affidavits detailing their corrupt relationship.
One of the allegations that had arisen was that Agliotti had paid for a pair of shoes during a shopping spree that Selebi had given to the president as a gift. Agliotti even recalled that the commissioner had told the shop assistant he wanted size seven, soft leather shoes because Thabo Mbeki had small, broad feet.
I didn’t want any of the Scorpions investigators interrogating the president of the country about his shoes, so I asked him myself during one of our consultations. I said to President Mbeki, ‘What size shoe do you wear?’ and before he could even answer, I told him.
I said, ‘Do you know how I know? It’s because you got the shoes from Jackie.’ He confirmed that Selebi had presented them as a gift from SAPS management. When I explained that Agliotti had paid for the shoes, he looked very surprised and asked if I was sure.
As a way of verifying Agliotti’s affidavit, which he wrote in his cell, the investigators had gone to the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site to confirm the president’s foot size. In 2002, Mbeki and former United Nations General Secretary Kofi Annan had visited the Sterkfontein Caves and casts of their foot imprints had been made and are on display there.
The investigators measured the casts of Mbeki’s feet to confirm the size of his shoes. It was ingenious investigative work.
During my meetings with the president and the minister, I also regularly raised my frustrations, and those of the DSO (Directorate of Special Operations), with the lack of co-operation being accorded to us by the SAPS.
I was further angered by the lack of co-operation by the SAPS because in 2005, when the police had requested information from the NPA (National Prosecution Authority) on a separate matter, I was extremely accommodating. Magistrate AAK Singh had laid charges against the previous national director of public prosecutions and several senior state advocates for defeating the ends of justice. The SAPS requested certain documents be made available by the NPA and when some of the files could not be located, I opened my office to them.
Officers did a thorough search of the NPA’s records. Similarly, in 2006, when the SAPS was investigating the DSO’s alleged abuse of the “C-Fund” used to pay informants, the NPA provided the SAPS with all relevant documents and files. And because highly confidential information was involved, I even gave them a secure boardroom to use so that the documents did not have to be removed from our premises. This investigation took almost three months and I obliged because I knew my co-operation was necessary to enable the police to conduct their investigation without any interference.
However, when we required similar assistance from the SAPS, they were being obstructive. Despite numerous requests and memos to the president, my minister and the minister of safety and security, the police still refused to hand over the documents we needed to complete the investigation. In my submissions to the Ginwala Inquiry, I detailed each and every one of these meetings: who was there and what was discussed, and produced reports written for the purposes of briefing the ministers and the president.
One such meeting was in March 2007, at Esselen Park in Ekurhuleni, where the ANC national executive committee had convened. Minister Brigitte Mabandla had requested me to brief her, the minister of safety and security and the president. The president suggested that Selebi should also attend the briefing, but I expressed my reservations because the investigation had reached a new threshold and we were about to make the commissioner a formal suspect.
Mbeki was annoyed by my response and indicated that the purpose of the meeting was not to discuss the investigation but to clear up issues of co-operation and to ensure that the NPA received documents that had been requested. It was the first time I had witnessed Mbeki’s impatience and irritability. I wasn’t sure whether it was because of the NEC meeting or what I had said. Regardless of my position, however, Selebi was indeed invited to attend and the president delegated the matter to his ministers so he wasn’t in the room. Selebi was arrogant and refused to hand over the documents, stating that they were sensitive. He claimed he couldn’t take the risk of the Scorpions leaking the contents, and reasserted his claim that we had been infiltrated.
The ministers were powerless in the face of Selebi’s arrogance. I got increasingly angry and stated, “What is the purpose of going on with this meeting, ministers? Your commissioner is telling you that we are not going to get this information and you are not saying anything about it. You are not telling him that he must give us the information, so what is the purpose of this meeting?”
I concluded, “There’s no meeting, let’s go.” I was furious. The ministers had failed to call Selebi to order and I was thoroughly frustrated. By that stage the state attorney had become involved and all legal avenues were being closed to us. I was running out of options, so two days later, on 19 March 2007, out of sheer frustration, I wrote a memorandum to Mabandla.
In that six-page memorandum I placed on record all our attempts to deal with the matter “in a manner that is expected of an institution of State and to perform our mandate without embarrassment to our Government and country”.
I stated that it was clear from the Esselen Park meeting that the SAPS was not willing to co-operate with us and that the national commissioner refused to make the documents available. We had requested five UK activity reports, videos that had been recorded with Agliotti and Paul Stemmet (a vigilante who worked with the police), as well as the police informer or source files of Stemmet and Agliotti, but none were forthcoming. I also listed the examples of instances when the SAPS had requested assistance from the NPA and we had obliged.
In the report I also told the minister: ‘It is the investigating team’s view that we should formally apply for a search warrant to gain access to the information. Such an application will inevitably bring the dispute into the public domain which of course is highly undesirable but the only legal option available to us if this matter is not resolved soon.”
I undertook not to take any further action until three days later.
“In the circumstances, we will have no alternative but to seek the assistance of the courts to obtain the relief we require.”
The following day the DSO converted the initial preparatory Bad Guys investigation into a full-blown probe in terms of Section 28(1) of the NPA Act. That same day the minister informed me by SMS that the SAPS had agreed to hand over all the information we had requested. A week later the police handed over the five UK activity reports, but withheld the remainder of the information we had requested.
At an NPA stakeholders’ conference towards the end of March, I advised the minister that the SAPS was still refusing to hand over the remainder of the documents. She was surprised, and during the course of that conversation also raised her concerns about the DSO relying on the evidence of accomplice witnesses. I reminded her about Section 204 of the Criminal Procedure Act, which allowed us to rely on the evidence of accomplice witnesses.
In April, we again repeated our request to the SAPS and when this was ignored, the investigating team – together with the four national deputy directors of public prosecutions – agreed we should proceed with an application for a search warrant for the SAPS headquarters, Wachthuis.
By mid-May we were still waiting and nothing was produced. I prepared a memorandum to the president in which I recorded that a deadlock had been reached and efforts to resolve this by engaging the ministers accountable had failed: “I am addressing this letter to you as a last resort. As you know, in the course of last year, information was brought to my attention which incriminated the National Commissioner. Some of the revelations came as a painful experience but had to be looked into properly. The DSO’s approach has been not to react to some of the questionable allegations, unless they were backed up by independent reliable corroboration.”
I informed the president that the DSO intended seeking a search warrant to obtain the information relevant to the investigation into the allegations against Selebi. While the warrant would be wider than the initial request for information, I felt that was justified but the DSO remained willing to execute a “friendly search” so as not to cause embarrassment. I also stated: “The DSO will be amenable to enter the premises of the SAPS in a way not to draw any attention, and is willing to effect the search in a way and at a time not to cause embarrassment to, or affect SAPS operations.”
I appealed for the president’s intervention, otherwise the DSO would have no option but to… (apply) for a warrant.
The letter was sent on 7 May 2007. I told the president that time was of the essence and that the investigating team would like to take whatever steps were necessary to gain access to the documents by 8 May.
Obviously I was concerned about having to conduct a raid at the police headquarters… We were, however, engaged in a legitimate investigation as a state institution. South Africa is a… constitutional democracy and I had already informed the relevant minister, who was not coming to the party. My minister was of no assistance either. The president was aware of the information we wanted and that there had been no breakthrough. What were our options?
Either we had to abandon the operation or we had to seek out other legally available means.
I don’t think the ministers and the president were deliberately trying to block us. I simply think they were powerless against Selebi. They couldn’t impose themselves on him and they appeared to be afraid of him. It was simple: Minister of Safety and Security Charles Nqakula should have instructed Selebi to co-operate with the Scorpions. He should have said, “Let them see those documents”. He didn’t do that. This meant we were forced to take a step we did not want to take, and even at this late hour we were willing to ask the president to intervene.
* My Second Initiation by Vusi Pikoli and Mandy Wiener is published by Picador Africa, an imprint of Pan Macmillan SA. Recommended retail price R220.