Abrahams says he needs a reason to arrest the Guptas
... but MPs weren't buying NPA head's excuses for why arrests were bungled
Chief prosecutor Shaun Abrahams had a tough day in the office on Wednesday when he had to explain to unimpressed MPs why the National Prosecuting Authority dragged its feet with the issuing of arrest warrants for the Guptas.
But he insisted there was no prima facie evidence against them, adding that everyone had a right to be “treated fairly” and that he cannot just arrest people because they are unpopular with the public.
Abrahams and acting Hawks head Lieutenant-General Yolisa Matakata were called to appear before a joint meeting of the national assembly’s portfolio committees on justice and police after Times Select reported that the Hawks were blaming the NPA for allowing the Gupta brothers to slip out of the country before they could be arrested.
The pair faced tough questions in parliament over the reported bungling of the arrests of the Gupta brothers and Free State politicians such as agriculture MEC Mosebenzi Zwane in the controversial Vrede farm project.MPs from across the divide wanted answers after the Hawks last week suggested the Guptas could have been arrested by December, before they skipped the country. But Abrahams and his team stalled the issuing of the arrest warrants.
The NPA only gave the Hawks the go-ahead to move on the arrests in February.
The Hawks and the NPA have been working closely together on the Estina Dairy Farm probe, in what is described in legal circles as “a prosecution-guided investigation”.
In a tense meeting, where he was repeatedly reminded by co-chairman Mathole Motshekga to refrain from lecturing lawmakers on the inner workings of the NPA, Abrahams said the arrest warrants could not be issued because there was “no prima facie evidence” to charge them with the alleged fraud and money-laundering.
Abrahams said it was not in the interest of the administration of justice to arrest people simply because they had become unpopular among the public.
He insisted that no suspects “will be left off the hook” in the Estina investigation and other related state capture cases.“We have to show that each of the allegations can be backed up by evidence.
“I implore on everybody to allow the investigation process to take place. It does not matter how anybody here or anybody outside, or I feel about anybody. We need to treat people fairly; that’s what the constitution says.
“The matter is a subject of investigation … nobody against who there’s a prima facie case and where the interest of justice dictated that a prosecution be instituted, will be left off the hook,” said Abrahams.
He said while they planned to apply for the extradition of the Guptas and other suspects, the risk was that they would be limited to only charging with crimes related to the Estina dairy farm in terms of extradition laws.
But unimpressed MPs rejected his explanation, accusing him of shielding politically connected individuals from prosecution.
MPs said Abrahams was leading a “politically captured” NPA, alleging Abrahams and his team had been deliberately delaying decisions on the warrants while awaiting the outcome of the ANC national conference in December.Abrahams was appointed by former president Jacob Zuma in 2015 and that appointment is currently the subject of court challenge.
The NPA chief challenged MPs to produce any evidence of the “political capture” of the prosecuting body.
“The majority of prosecutors in the NPA are career prosecutors. Now for anybody to say the NPA is politically captured, they will have to be more specific and present the evidence.”
It was at this point that MPs lost patience with Abrahams, saying his “bare denials” were not helpful.
The committees have now resolved to call former Police minister Fikile Mbalula, his successor Bheki Cele and Justice Minister Mike Masutha to get to the bottom of the matter.