Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
23 March 2010

Simelane comes through for the ANC

News that the purported National Director for Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Menzi Simelane, has decided to intervene and to stop attempts by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) to attach some of the assets of Mr Fana Hlongwane because of suspicions that Hlongwane received his money through corrupt arms deal practices, comes as no surprise. Providing reasons for the decision, Simelane argues that there is not sufficient evidence that Hlongwane indeed broke the law.

Simelane’s view differs from that of his own staff intimately involved in the case. Staff at the AFU maintain that there is good reason to suspect that the R200 million received from successful arms deal bidders was paid as bribes and they have pressed for the case against Hlongwane to go ahead.

Simelane points out correctly that:

if forfeiture process were to be instituted by the NPA, it would require a good basis for doing so as opposed to a simple suspicion. The test though remains lesser than the criminal test of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It is a civil test of balance of probabilities.

But curiously, he then applies this test in a rather eccentric manner, arguing that because the test is one of probabilities Hlongwane needed:

to show on a balance of probabilities that the money was not obtained from criminal activities. Put another way, they needed to rebut the suspicion of criminal activity. They did not have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the money was obtained legally. For this purpose they were advised to submit a formal memorandum supported by annexures, if any.

Simelane seems to argue that the submissions made by Hlongwane’s lawyers cast doubt on the suspicion of criminality and hence necessitated the dropping of the case. Because the source of the money was known, it was for the AFU to provide other evidence to prove that the money was not received as part of an attempt to corrupt the arms deal. This seems strange as the test is one of probabilities and one must ask, what is more probable: the version presented by Hlonwagne’s lawyers or the version presented by the AFU.

Just because Hlongwane provided a story that casts doubt on the version presented by the AFU does not mean that on a balance of probabilities Hlongwane was not involved in corruption. On balance, one has to decide which version is more plausible, not whether the AFU has a watertight case.

AFU lawyers are adamant that on the balance of probabilities there was criminal conduct and thus maintain their version is more plausible and one would have thought that a conscientious and honest NDPP would place sufficient trust in his lawyers to go with their version.

Nevertheless Simelane chose rather to believe Hlongwane. This is strange as BAE who paid the money has entered into a plea bargain on some of the bribery allegations against it while other charges against them were dropped, partly because anti-corruption legislation in the UK is deficient – unlike South Africa who has much stronger anti-corruption legislation.

The crux of the matter is this: there is strong suspicions, based on the available evidence, that BAE paid bribes via Hlongwane to secure arms deal contracts from South Africa. Hlongwane’s lawyers provided a different story. One had to choose either to believe this story of Hlongwane or to believe the mountains of circumstantial evidence pointing the other way. Simelane chose to believe the former and not the latter.

That was a choice his own investigators with intimate knowledge of the details of the case would not have made. The question then arises: why did Simelane believe Hlongwane rather than the lawyers in the AFU? To answer this question one has to remember that the AFU lawyers are not well-connected ANC funders and supporters while Hlongwane is. One also has to remember that Hlongwane is alleged to have paid bribes of millions of Rand to various ANC connected people and recall that Simelane was deployed to the NDPP by the ANC.

If one has strong political loyalties and one is presented with two versions of events, one is likely to believe the version that will be most beneficial to one’s political masters.

Maybe all those lawyers at the AFU are wrong and Simelane – with his limited knowledge of the facts – is right. But given Simelane’s track record as a loyal servant of the rich and politically powerful, reasonable people will suspect that Simelane chose to believe one rather than the other side because he was politically required to do so. Was his choice thus a political rather than a legal choice?

A choice for the other version presented by the AFU may have had adverse consequences for many people in the ANC who is alleged to have taken bribes. I for one suspects that this may well have tilted the scales against the AFU in favor of Hlongwane. If Simelane was an honest man and if he had not been exposed at the Ginwala Inquiry as someone who was prepared to act in ways that are both dishonest and perhaps even criminal, I would have given Simelane the benefit of the doubt.

However, given the grave doubts about Simelane’s honesty and integrity, it is impossible to give him the benefit of the doubt. To this observer a reasonable suspicion thus exist that Simelane made a political decision to save the ANC further embarrassment from the arms deal bribery. The AFU lawyers who actually worked on the case agree with me and not with Simelane.

Would Vusi Pikoli have made the same decision as Simelane? I suspect not. No wonder he was fired.

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