Suspended prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach’s usual gruffness softened as she took centre stage in her disciplinary hearing this week.
After eight months of waiting to give her version of events, Breytenbach began methodically going through the events that led to her suspension from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in April last year.
The advocate dismissed the allegations that she had not adhered to the prosecutorial code of conduct during the fraud investigation of mining company Imperial Crown Trading in 2011.
Her suspension followed a complaint by Imperial’s lawyer, Ronnie Mendelow, in October 2011 to the NPA, in which he accused her of showing bias towards his client’s rival, Kumba Iron Ore subsidiary Sishen Iron Ore Company.
Breytenbach dismissed his claims, telling the hearing that Mendelow “has a very fertile imagination”.
Earlier, she had a dig at the legal competency of her boss, advocate Lawrence Mrwebi.
Mrwebi, who heads the NPA’s specialised commercial crimes unit, testified against Breytenbach two weeks ago, saying that it was not “permissible” for a prosecutor to plan a case with the help of a complainant.
This week, Breytenbach noted that “unfortunately” her boss was “not correct”.
She said: “I am not sure if Mr Mrwebi has ever prosecuted a complex commercial matter.”
Mrwebi decided in January last year to institute an internal investigation into Breytenbach in relation to Mendelow’s complaint.
She was suspended a few months later.
Mendelow alleged that Breytenbach had an “unusually close relationship” with Sishen’s legal counsel, Mike Hellens, and that this was illustrated by Hellens’ assistance to Breytenbach and police investigator Colonel Sandra van Wyk in drafting affidavits for an application for search and seizure warrants of Imperial’s premises in July 2010.
The thrust of Mendelow’s complaint, Breytenbach’s advocate Wim Trengove said, was that Breytenbach and Van Wyk “were vigorously investigating Imperial, but they were not investigating their complaint against [Sishen Iron Ore Company] with equal vigour”.
Mendelow also said that Hellens appeared to be indirectly “controlling the investigation”.
Breytenbach said: “I am really not sure what that means. I had only the interests of the state — to make sure the warrants weren’t overturned.”
Trengove said on February 7 he planned to show that Mrwebi did not independently verify the validity of Mendelow’s complaint against Breytenbach, and had merely accepted the claims as fact.
Breytenbach has claimed that the NPA suspended her only to ensure that she could not continue with the prosecution of suspended crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli.
Mendelow’s 2011 complaint appears to have been spurred by a court hearing in Kimberley a few days earlier regarding the validity of the search warrants, where both Hellens and Breytenbach were present.
Mendelow said Hellens and Breytenbach displayed “a barely disguised hostile manner” towards Imperial’s legal representatives, Mendelow himself and advocate Edmund Wessels.
Breytenbach denied this: “I don’t think I displayed hostility. I don’t think I was effusively friendly [either], but that’s not special, I am not usually friendly.”
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