Senior prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach is not going down without a fight — but nor, it seems, is the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
This week Breytenbach again faced her employer at the Johannesburg Labour Court following an urgent application, brought by Breytenbach, asking for her transfer by the NPA to the North Gauteng office of the director of public prosecutions to be declared unlawful.
Breytenbach has also asked the court to order that she be allowed to take up her previous position as the regional head of the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit in Pretoria. Judgment has been reserved.
About two weeks after the chair of Breytenbach’s disciplinary hearing, advocate Selby Mbenenge, cleared her of the 15 charges brought against her last year by the NPA, her prospects of a seamless return to her job were undercut by her superiors, who informed her that three new charges were being investigated against her.
Since Breytenbach was first suspended in April last year, she has maintained that the NPA’s acting head, advocate Nomgcobo Jiba, and Breytenbach’s immediate boss, advocate Lawrence Mrwebi, have gone to extreme lengths to ensure she cannot go after suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.
Prior to her suspension, Breytenbach was pursuing the fraud and corruption case against Mdluli — linked to his alleged abuse of crime intelligence’s secret service account — despite Mrwebi withdrawing the charges against him.
The NPA has denied Breytenbach’s Mdluli claim, and has stuck to its allegations that Breytenbach showed bias towards mining company Sishen Iron Ore during a fraud investigation into its rival, Imperial Crown Trading — a charge Mbenenge rejected.
Though Mrwebi has claimed the withdrawal of charges against Mdluli in December 2011 were provisional, nothing has happened to the intelligence head since Breytenbach was taken out of the picture. Some might argue this is how the NPA would like things to remain.
After Breytenbach was acquitted of the internal charges by Mbenenge at the end of May, the prosecuting authority filed an application at the Labour Court to have his ruling reviewed and Breytenbach fired.
In the meantime, the NPA still considers Breytenbach suspended “in part due to the [pending] review application and … a concern that there has been a breakdown of trust of the employment relationship”.
Her lawyer, Gerhard Wagenaar, also drew the NPA’s attention to a remark made by Jiba in an answering affidavit in the Labour Court last year, where she said that, if Breytenbach “is found not guilty, it will be the end of the matter”.
Wagenaar argued that his client was therefore entitled to return to her previous position.
But at a meeting with Jiba on June 10, at which Breytenbach was scheduled to discuss her “reintegration” to her old job following a 14-month hiatus, things took a different turn.
It appears, as argued by Breytenbach’s advocate Andrew Redding this week, that the NPA changed tack.
Jiba intimated to Breytenbach that she would have to “transfer” her temporarily to the director of public prosecutions North Gauteng, owing to “serious allegations … with regard to her conduct in certain cases”.
The new charges relate to Breytenbach’s initial involvement in the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit’s investigation into collusion, fraud and racketeering at major construction firms.
At the June 10 meeting, Jiba told Breytenbach that the issues, relating to the construction charges, were raised by investigators involved in “some cases”, but which Jiba had previously thought “were baseless”.
However, according to Redding, Jiba told Breytenbach that the issues “have now been raised again and are being investigated”.
What is of interest is that the new allegations against Breytenbach — who it seems is being accused of protecting the interests of big business in the construction-cartel investigation — were previously rumours being bandied about by intelligence-linked individuals working with Breytenbach’s detractors.
When the NPA’s case against Breytenbach began to fall apart, especially after Mrwebi fumbled through his evidence at her disciplinary hearing, the rumour mill went into overdrive.
It now appears these once seemingly baseless rumours have been turned into charges and, perhaps, a desperate last-ditch attempt by the NPA to keep Breytenbach out.
The NPA has claimed, however, that the matter is complex and the investigation is at “a sensitive stage”.
The charges being investigated against Breytenbach relate to her alleged granting “19 or 20” section 204 indemnities from prosecution to employees of construction giant Stefanutti Stocks.
While Stefanutti director Schalk Ackerman did receive indemnity for his evidence, Breytenbach noted that all requests by Stefanutti employees for indemnity were denied, and further that she “has no idea what has happened since”.
Although Breytenbach does not appear to be giving in, it remains uncertain what the NPA still has up its sleeve against her.
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