Shaun the Sheep can stop the fleecing

Tim Cohen
Tim Cohen
Oh, humour. What would we do without it? In response to the decision by the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA’s) Shaun Abrahams to disappear from view at the exact moment he might be expected to be in full flight with arms full of affidavits and summonses, some wag has apparently opened a missing persons docket for him at a Johannesburg police station.

If this were the US, he would be appearing on milk cartons soon. Abrahams was the man who stood up and furiously said: “The days of disrespecting the NPA are over.”

It seems like an aeon ago. Who respects the NPA now? Not many. The jokes aimed at Shaun the Sheep are not entirely fair because, in fact, the formal responsibility for arresting the Guptas falls, not on Abrahams and the NPA, but on the head of the Hawks – and that position has been, deliberately one senses, repeatedly given to incompetents.

We expect the NPA to be at the forefront of combating serious crime because that is what they once did. But recall, as soon as the Zuma administration came into power, it carried out initiatives begun during the Mbeki administration to hobble corruption investigations.

In the process of changing the Scorpions to the Hawks, the innovative idea of prosecutors leading investigations was scrapped and replaced with the more bureaucratic procedure of a strict division between the police and the prosecution service. Now what is supposed to happen is the police investigate and then take their docket to the prosecutors, who decide if the matter is prosecutable.

If it is not, it is sent back for more investigation. It’s amazing how effectively this spike in the wheels of justice has worked. What it does is create several points at which an investigation can flounder, either at the investigation stage or the prosecution stage. Or both.

Corrupt politicians know that police investigations are usually a disaster when it comes to complicated financial cases. Hence, ensuring that prosecutors are kept out of it effectively makes corruption unprosecutable.

Shaun the Sheep is not, however, totally off the hook, because what he can do is establish a specialised task force to examine, for example, the leaked Gupta e-mails. In this task force, prosecutors and investigators would work together with crime intelligence and forensic analysts to put together a case.

We know this is possible because – and this you may find hard to believe – there is such a force!

It’s called the Anti-Corruption Task Team. Jointly chaired by the heads of the Hawks and the NPA, the team did appear in parliament recently, during which the committee was updated on the work the group was not doing and the investigations it had not finalised and the investigations it had referred to other bodies to not do.

One of the investigations the authority was specifically asked to work on was the theft of state resources for Nkandla. Apparently, those investigations are continuing. As they have been for the past five years.

But the good news is that Abrahams stated firmly for the record that he was not “captured” and was not afraid of arresting anyone.

Well, in that case, I have a suggestion: go out and arrest the Guptas now. Given his record, I would imagine he would protest that the case needs to be “investigated”.

But we know what that means: it is going to be shelved for years.

DA shadow justice minister Glynnis Breytenbach explained to me that there is an obvious case to be made and an obvious reason to act immediately. The case is racketeering, which is specifically designed as a kind of umbrella charge in which you can slot theft, corruption, money laundering and tax evasion as they arise.

Racketeering is such a simple charge. It consists of essentially running a criminal enterprise. Given the involvement of the Guptas in such a wide array of what appears to be fraud, I cannot believe there is a single judge in the country who would not find there is a case to answer.

What the charge of racketeering would allow is for the immediate opening of cross-border investigations and the involvement of foreign crime-fighting organisations.

The reason for putting the charge immediately is simply to make sure the Guptas don’t scarper. It is much more difficult to get someone back than it is to ensure they don’t leave.

The leaked e-mails show the Guptas have been studiously creating a getaway pad in Dubai, so acting fast would seem sensible.

The other advantage would be to ensure the assets are frozen because surely the priority now is to make sure taxpayers get at least some of their money back.

Go on, Shaun. Show us you are really not afraid.

Tim Cohen is editor of Business Day. His column features in the place of the bi-monthly column by Dispatch editor Sibusiso Ngalwa who was out of the office yesterday