Corrupt officials still sitting in key positions in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and friction with National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Shamila Batohi are said to be behind the sudden resignation this week of Advocate Hermione Cronjé as head of the Investigating Directorate.
The directorate was specially created in 2019 so that the NPA could launch its own investigations into state capture.
Batohi and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola were summoned by Parliament on Wednesday to explain to the portfolio committee on justice why Cronjé resigned just two years after she had been appointed to the key post.
In a shock announcement on Thursday, Batohi stated that Cronjé had asked to be relieved of her duties. She said she had recommended to President Cyril Ramaphosa that he accept her resignation.
Cronjé’s resignation is seen as a major setback in the fight against corruption.
Despite substantial success in recovering money and other assets that had been lost to state capture, there have been virtually no successful prosecutions stemming from the investigations. A source said:One of the greatest disappointments for her [Cronjé] was the R1.2 billion that was embezzled and stolen from the Gauteng health department over the years.
“Virtually all the money was recovered, but so far no one has been convicted, despite irrefutable evidence of these crimes,” said a source who is intimately familiar with the internal politics of the NPA.
The money was recovered from corrupt activities that started in 2012 and continued until 2018. But, last year, another corruption scandal erupted in the provincial health department over the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE) intended to combat Covid-19.
In August, whistle-blower Babita Deokaran, who was the acting chief financial officer in the department, was assassinated outside her home in the south of Johannesburg.
Among other things, Deokaran had stopped the payments for corrupt transactions and, after her death, the Special Investigating Unit announced that she was a key witness in the R332 million PPE scandal.
The continued presence of a senior prosecutor, who played a major role in the false prosecution of former head of the KwaZulu-Natal Hawks Major General Johan Booysen, allegedly made it impossible for Cronjé to do her job, according to the source.
“And it does not seem that Batohi has either the courage or the ability to get rid of them, [he is one of several people accused of wrongdoing],” the source said.
Cronjé and Batohi initially got on well, the source said. Shortly after Cronjé’s appointment, there were problems with the budget for her directorate, but they were resolved fairly quickly.
But, over time, friction arose, especially when it became clear to Cronjé that she did not have enough freedom to make appointments that she felt she needed for the directorate to function efficiently.
The source added:There was far too much interference in the decisions about who she may appoint and who not to. This also played a role in her resignation.
In addition, Cronjé lives in Cape Town but had to be in Pretoria on weekdays, so she travelled back and forth and stayed in a hotel in Pretoria during the week.
This reportedly took a toll on her as she could only see her children over weekends.
Bulelani Magwanishe, the chairperson of the parliamentary portfolio committee on justice and correctional services, confirmed the committee had asked Lamola and Batohi to explain why Cronjé had resigned.
They also wanted to know if her resignation would disrupt the work conducted by the NPA. Cronjé will stop work on May 1. The NPA promised to hold an information session tomorrow to explain what effect the resignation would have on the institution.