A Pall Over the Pretender
Mail and Guardian
As the battle over the future of prosecutions head Bulelani Ngcuka moves to Parliament, the man earmarked to succeed him is coming under increasing pressure from Ngcuka's investigators.
The Mail & Guardian revealed a month ago that former Limpopo premier Ngoako Ramatlhodi was tipped to take over from Ngcuka, who has been under intense pressure arising from his investigation of Deputy President Jacob Zuma.
Now it emerges that the Scorpions, a division of Ngcuka's National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), have smelt blood in an ongoing corruption probe against Ramatlhodi: late last month the Scorpions raided and seized evidence from two men who were allegedly part of a scheme to channel financial favours to Ramatlhodi and Limpopo Finance Minister Thaba Mufamadi.
The raids were conducted around May 27 after Judge Ronnie Bosielo of the Pretoria High Court authorised search and seizure warrants. On Thursday Judge Bosielo confirmed to the M&G that he had done so. He also said the Scorpions had indicated that the case was "very sensitive".
The warrants were issued by Judge Bosielo after a hearing in chambers and the details are not known. The Scorpions would have had to show him likely cause that the men they were to raid, Mahlare Gideon Serote and Solly Mohale, were part of an alleged corrupt scheme involving Ramatlhodi and Mufamadi. This may increase the chances of Ramatlhodi ultimately having a case to answer.
Ramatlhodi and Mufamadi have denied the allegations against them. Ramatlhodi this week admitted that Mohale is his "friend", but again denied any wrongdoing.
The allegations against Ramatlhodi have been publicly known for some time; they were first aired by noseweek magazine last year. Unless one agrees with claims, circulated by some of Ngcuka's detractors, that the Ramatlhodi investigation was trumped up for political reasons, the question remains how Ramatlhodi can seriously be considered as a replacement for Ngcuka.
Ngcuka has made no secret in the past that he was reconsidering his tenure. After the Hefer commission findings late last year, he said he would "reflect" on his future.
But the M&G understands from within the NPA that Ngcuka now maintains he will not go under "the current circumstances" — presumably meaning that he wants to ride out the storm created by Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana's had handled the Zuma investigation.
Ngcuka's statement may also be an indication that he wants to see through the corruption trial later this year of Schabir Shaik, Zuma's financial adviser. The charges against Shaik are based on the same set of facts as the allegations the NPA has investigated against Zuma, meaning that the Shaik trial can be regarded as a skirmish in the larger battle between Ngcuka and Zuma.
While Ngcuka may not be ready to throw in the towel, Ramatlhodi seems to be preparing himself to succeed him.
City Press reported last weekend that Ramatlhodi has applied to the Pretoria High Court for admission as an advocate, a prerequisite for him to fill the position now held by Ngcuka.
Ramatlhodi this week told the M&G that he was "not aware" of plans to deploy him to the position. The investigation into Ramatlhodi and Mufamadi centres on allegations that they received financial favours flowing from the Limpopo provincial contract to handle social grants payments. The R200-million-a-year contract was first awarded to Cash Paymaster Services Northern (CPS) in 1996.
CPS's empowerment partner is a company known as Nicoh, of which the men who were raided, Serote and Mohale, were the principals. It is alleged that part of the R700 000 Nicoh received monthly from the grants contract was shared with, among others, the two politicians.
The M&G has also revealed that some of Nicoh's earnings from the contract found their way into African National Congress coffers through a "charitable" trust set up to benefit the people and developing businesses in Limpopo.
Serote this week failed to respond to messages. Mohale, who has previously denied wrongdoing, said he had no further comment.
NPA spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi would not comment, saying: "The rule is quite clear; we don't comment on investigations. We neither confirm nor deny investigations."
With acknowledgements to Stefaans Brümmer, Wisani wa ka Ngobeni, Sam Sole and the Mail & Guardian.