Advocate Vusi Pikoli, former National Director of Public Prosecutions, staked out his claim for a return to office this week, slamming the national security reasons given for his suspension as a “smokescreen”.
Pikoli’s fate now lies in the hands of a 22 member special parliamentary committee after a charged two-day hearing held in Cape Town on Tuesday and Wednesday to decide if he should be reinstated.
The committee was convened following President Kgalema Motlanthe’s controversial decision to remove Pikoli from office on 8 December last year.
This was despite a finding by the Ginwala Commission that cleared him as being fit to hold office.
The commission was held after Pikoli’s suspension by then President Thabo Mbeki on 23 September 2007 for not taking national security into consideration in the investigation by the NPA of National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi for his alleged links to organised crime. Selebi was subsequently suspended.
An adamant Pikoli stuck to his guns during his presentation to the committee on Tuesday, insisting that he had been suspended by Mbeki for refusing orders not to prosecute Selebi and not because of national security concerns.
“Because I refused to obey an unlawful instruction I was suspended,” he said.
Pikoli said he came under pressure from former justice minister Brigitte Mabandla to drop the case, but refused because it would have been unconstitutional to do so.
He said Mbeki’s complaint that he had jeopardised national security by not agreeing to wait two weeks before executing warrants related to Selebi was a “smokescreen”.
“National security should not be used as an excuse to avoid a criminal investigation where there is evidence of a criminal offence,” he said.
But Director-General in the Presidency Reverend Frank Chikane, in answering questions from committee members, said the issue was not about what Pikoli ought to have done, but how he did it.
Chikane said Pikoli had been suspended because he wanted to act too fast on Selebi and this could have threatened national security.
He said that it was the president’s duty that there should have been no instability over Selebi. There was also concern over who would replace Selebi.
Chikane said a “critical issue” was for Pikoli to have had a plan of action if he was going to execute the warrants. He further disputed that the president had abused his power, arguing that the investigation of Selebi had never been prevented.
Opposition parties questioned the national security explanation provided by Chikane.
ID leader Patrica de Lille demanded to know what the implications were around national security that the president was so worried about in requesting a two-week delay. She charged that national security was being used as a “smokescreen”.
Chikane responded: “It’s not a smokescreen. There are certain things that you don’t divulge to a country.”
He said the presidency had asked Pikoli for a two-week delay to manage the national security concerns, but the doors of communication were closed, leading to the suspension.
The committee is expected to resume on 27 January for deliberation on Motlanthe’s decision. It will then recommend to Parliament’s National Assembly (NA) and National Council of Provinces (NCOP) whether Pikoli should be restored to office or not.