11 February 2019

South Africa: Hofmeyr Rejects Claims of Political Interference in the Dropping of Charges Against Zuma

Deputy National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Willie Hofmeyr has rejected any suggestion that there was political interference on his part in the dropping of charges against former president Jacob Zuma.

"I put it to you that the decision not to prosecute the former president amounted to political interference in the decision-making process of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)," advocate Norman Arendse, SC, said to Hofmeyr during cross-examination on Monday.

"I don't quite understand what you suggest is the political interference. It was a decision by top management and we did not consult with any politicians on that matter," Hofmeyr said in response.

The deputy NDPP revealed this in Tshwane at the commission of inquiry into the fitness of suspended deputy NDPP Nomgcobo Jiba and suspended special director of public prosecutions Lawrence Mrwebi to hold office.

The NPA, led by then acting head Mokotedi Mpshe, in 2009 dropped fraud and corruption charges against Zuma two weeks before the 2009 general elections.

This came after Zuma made representations on the spy tapes saga and said there was a political conspiracy against him. He based this on telephone recordings between former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka and former head of the directorate of special operations Leonard McCarthy discussing the reinstatement of recharges against Zuma just before ANC's 2007 Polokwane conference.

Zuma was elected the ANC's new leader at the conference.

Due to a witness' affidavit describing Jiba's term as acting NDPP as one filled with political interference, advocate Arendse quizzed Hofmeyr on the allegations where he may have played a direct role during cross-examination.

Arendse recalled that the merits of Zuma's case allowed for the prosecution team, led by Advocate Billy Downer, to go ahead with the case. However Hofmeyr and Mpshe shared an opposing view.

'We were wrong'

"It is correct that I had a different view, but I think in the end all of my colleagues did share that view.

"What concerned us was the political motivation of when the prosecution should be instituted to have the maximum benefit to Mr (Thabo) Mbeki," he explained.

Hofmeyr clarified that although he was one of the five people who came to the conclusion to withdraw charges, "legally it was Mr Mpshe's decision on the dropping of charges".

He further accepts that this was a wrong decision.

"I acknowledge that we were wrong in taking that into consideration.

"I accept that even senior prosecutors get it badly wrong, but I think after the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment was delivered in the case there was no more grounds to getting it wrong in the future," he conceded.

Probing further, Arendse mused that if the deputy NDPP accepts that senior prosecutors sometimes "get it wrong", does it mean that they are no longer fit to hold office?

"I do think it depends on the circumstances of the case. I think there is a difference between the decision to not prosecute and to prosecute against someone with very little evidence, which is a phenomenon we saw later," Hofmeyr said in response.

The inquiry continued on Monday.

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