New 'spy tapes' emerge over ANC's Polokwane conference
New "spy tapes" revealed by the Sunday Times for the first time today prove politicians tried to manipulate high-profile prosecutions of senior ANC figures weeks before the party's 2007 elective conference in Polokwane.
These revelations come amid a fierce battle by President Jacob Zuma's legal team to keep the full collection of spy tapes secret, sparking speculation that they contain embarrassing details that could jeopardise his chances of being re-elected as ANC president at Mangaung.
Recordings of 35 phone calls between Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy, other NPA top brass - including Willie Hofmeyr, former prosecutions head Moketedi Mpshe, Vusi Pikoli and Bulelani Ngcuka - as well as former deputy minister of justice Johnny de Lange, detail extensive attempts at interference by the government of former president Thabo Mbeki in the prosecution of former top cop Jackie Selebi.
Although news of the existence of the tapes broke in 2008, this is the first time their contents have been released. These are not the recordings that apparently led to charges against Zuma being dropped, but are understood to be from the same surveillance operation.
In one conversation, Hofmeyr expresses his dismay to McCarthy over Mbeki suspending Pikoli in September 2007, after Pikoli refused to drop charges against Selebi. Hofmeyr says the NPA must stand firm to give the "indication that we're not backing down".
McCarthy describes the events as "outrageous" and says: "I wonder whether [Mbeki and then justice minister Brigitte Mabandla] understand the implications of what they have done."
He adds that Zuma "must be rubbing his hands" with glee.
Moketedi Mpshe was appointed in Pikoli's place.
The tapes make clear that with Pikoli out of the way, there was an intense effort by Mbeki to force the NPA not to accept a deal with druglord Glenn Agliotti that would have left Selebi open to prosecution but protected Agliotti with the plea bargain.
On September 24, 2007, Mpshe tells McCarthy he met Mbeki and Mabandla. When McCarthy asks what the politicians' expectation was, Mpshe replies: "It was not in such clear terms, especially the president. He was just harping on the state security, and the timing. Though timing not so explicitly, but you could infer. And I know that timing refers to November/December [Polokwane]."
Mpshe adds: "I can't say to the president, 'Go to hell' ."
That same day, Ngcuka tells McCarthy: "[Mpshe] was told last night that the issue is not just about this case about Jackie. The president says he can't understand why don't you charge Jackie and Glen Agliotti together."
But perhaps the biggest pressure placed on the NPA came from De Lange, who told McCarthy it was "madness" to charge Selebi without charging Agliotti at the same time.
"No wonder the president is angry," he says. "This is a gangster who has murdered people - how can we give him a suspended sentence? You know what message we send to criminals? Leonard, I hear what you're saying, but there mustn't be an agreement like that."
De Lange says that if this is political interference, "I think people will say, Thank God for political interference."
These recordings do not contain the comments made by Ngcuka to McCarthy that were apparently relied on by Mpshe to drop the charges against Zuma. But they are still likely to raise questions about why Zuma was let off, yet Selebi jailed for corruption despite evidence politicians tried to interfere in his prosecution too.
This week, Pikoli confirmed to the Sunday Times that he came under pressure from Mbeki to quit, but resisted. "I refused to take orders from politicians ... We had very difficult times when we were investigating Jackie. We were being monitored and intercepted by crime intelligence," he said.
Mpshe claimed this week he was "not aware about any outside interference in the cases of Jackie Selebi and Jacob Zuma. There was no interference at all. I can't comment on why we dropped the Zuma cases. The matter is sub judice as the DA has taken the matter to court".
In April 2009, however, he justified dropping the corruption charges against Zuma because of McCarthy's discussions with Ngcuka, which he said suggested political interference.
These recordings show McCarthy was aware that his discussions with Ngcuka could spell trouble. When it is suggested that the prosecutions team meet Ngcuka, McCarthy says on one of the tapes: "If he's drawn slap bang into this thing, then it's conspiracy theories and all that shit again. I can do without that."
Yesterday, D e Lange said his conversation was "in terms of the law and in the execution of my responsibilities as deputy minister".
"I expressed our shock and confusion, and indicated that the right thing to do was to prosecute all of the implicated persons togetherto the full extent of the law," he said.