Choice of Scorpions Judge Casts Shadow over Security Checks
Government’s security vetting procedures for high-level appointments have been called into question following the appointment of Judge Sisi Khampepe to examine the future of the Scorpions, despite a possible conflict of interest involving her husband.
Khampepe is married to Siza Khampepe, a businessman whose partners include people associated with the controversial arms deal and some of whom are related to others who have been investigated by the crime-fighting unit.
This has raised fears that Judge Khampepe, appointed last month by President Thabo Mbeki, might have her recommendations for the Scorpions tainted by a possible conflict of interest.
Political commentators said yesterday government had “extremely comprehensive vetting procedures” for sensitive and high-level appointments, and that it would have known of Khampepe’s potential conflict of interest.
One commentator who declined to be named said it was “bizarre” that the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), which conducts the checks, apparently overlooked this possible conflict of interest when it vetted Khampepe.
Anton du Plessis of the Institute for Security Studies said the vetting process involved all the intelligence agencies and was so thorough that the NIA “would have known” of Siza Khampepe’s business interests and associations.
“Even a junior appointment goes through an extremely comprehensive vetting process, which sometimes includes a lie-detector test,” he said.
Bheki Khumalo, spokesman for Mbeki, confirmed that “normal security checks” were done, but said the president did not have “any information to suggest that she can’t act with integrity”.
Khumalo said: “The president is resolute in his support for the judge, and is of the view that she will discharge her responsibilities with integrity.”
Du Plessis said the president needed to think carefully about what public perceptions his appointment of Khampepe might create.
“This is a watershed moment for SA’s democracy, and there should be no taint at all on the outcome of Khampepe’s (probe),” said Du Plessis.
Political analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said Khampepe’s appointment demonstrated government’s lack of expertise in public relations and showed insensitivity to public perceptions.
“Government is not always sensitive to public relations,” Matshiqi said.
However, Khumalo defended Mbeki and government, saying: “The president does not appoint people on the basis of perceptions.”
Siza Khampepe is director of Kgorong Investment Holdings, which was awarded a sizeable chunk of the arms deal.
He is also a co-director with Julekha Mohamed, Deputy President Jacob Zuma’s former attorney, and a close ally of Shamin “Chippy” Shaik and Younis Shaik (sic - Yunis), the brothers of Scorpions’ target and fraud and corruption accused Schabir Shaik.
Judge Khampepe was appointed by Mbeki last month to review the mandate of the Scorpions, consider the unit’s relationship with the South African Police Service and make recommendations about the unit’s future.
Democratic Alliance justice spokeswoman Sheila Camerer said the party did not have a problem with Khampepe’s appointment as such.
“We do not have a problem with her per se, but her husband’s business connections raise questions.
“The president should reconsider her appointment,” Camerer said.
With ackowledgements to Jacob Dlamini and Business Day.