By Jacques Keet

President Thabo Mbeki has terminated the services of suspended National Intelligence Agency (NIA) head Billy Masetlha with immediate effect.

Briefing the media at Parliament following Cabinet's fortnightly meeting at Tuynhuys on Wednesday, government communications chief Joel Netshitenzhe said this followed Mbeki's determination that the relationship of trust between himself and Masetlha had irreparably broken down.

During its meeting, Cabinet had been briefed on the investigation by the Inspector General of Intelligence Services (IG) Zolile Ngcakani into the authenticity of allegedly intercepted "e-mail communication" among public figures.

"The meeting noted the findings of the IG that these 'e-mails' were fabricated mock-ups that were not and could not have been communicated over the world-wide web.

"Overwhelming evidence, supported by independent expert testimony, points to the fact that the 'e-mails' and chat-room conversations were patently fraudulent," Netshitenzhe said.

Cabinet had agreed all relevant administrative, legal and policy issues deriving from the report should be followed up and, where required, Cabinet would be briefed on progress in this regard.

The meeting was also informed that Mbeki had decided to terminate Masetlha's services with effect from Wednesday, March 22.

"This decision, Cabinet was informed, derives from the President's determination that the relationship of trust between him and the head of NIA had irreparably broken down."

The IG and Intelligence Services Minister Ronnie Kasrils would brief Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence, the management and personnel of the intelligence agencies, and the media on the details of the findings in due course, Netshitenzhe said.

Masetlha would be paid out the balance of his contract, the extent of which was not known at this stage. Netshitenzhe would not be drawn on whether criminal charges, if any, would follow.

The IG's investigation sought to establish the veracity and source of the e-mails.

Kasrils suspended Masetlha and two other senior officials last year, pending a probe into claims of "serious misconduct" allegedly related to the surveillance of politician-turned-businessman Saki Macozoma.

The suspension of Masetlha, his deputy Gibson Njenje and NIA general manager Bob Mhlanga, followed an initial probe by the IG at Kasrils' instruction.

This followed a complaint from a member of the public, believed to be Macozoma.

The matter has been linked in the media to a succession battle in the African National Congress between Mbeki and former deputy president Jacob Zuma.

Macozoma is said to be a Mbeki loyalist.

The e-mails were purported to have been authored by top government officials and senior politicians. - Sapa