Law enforcement agencies bemoan shortage of investigators

National director of the National Prosecuting Authority, advocate Shamila Batohi.
National director of the National Prosecuting Authority, advocate Shamila Batohi.

Law enforcement agencies have blamed continued shortage of investigators and resources for the slow progress in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Hawks and Special Investigating Unit (SIU) on Wednesday faced grilling from parliament’s standing committee on public accounts (Scopa) on the investigations into Covid-19 corruption and in state-owned entities (SOEs). 

Several SOEs including Eskom and Transnet have been plagued by massive theft and looting.

MPs however complained that the heads of the agencies were not giving detailed presentations on the actual progress they had made in finalising cases.

EFF MP Veronica Mente slammed the NPA for failing to conclude cases which had been on the roll for years relating to fraud and corruption by officials.

“If we have a case that is still on the roll since 2017 and it is still on the roll and there isn’t much promise in terms of finalisation in terms of its current status, there is a problem,” Mente said.

The NPA’s investigative directorate head Hermione Cronje told MPs that high-profile commercial crime cases involving political heavyweights, bureaucrats and top executives of multinational companies were challenging to crack as they were able to conceal their criminal activities.

“On the law enforcement end, we don’t have the professionals to match that level of sophistication,” Cronje said.

Cronje said the agencies were sometimes forced to rely on expert witness opinion on the cases to be able to work out where wrongdoing occurred.

She said the biggest challenge was the voluminous data involved in the criminal dockets, including contracts, tender documents, and bank and back records.

“The sheer volume of material that prosecutors have to get on top of in order to extract sustainable charges is the challenge,” she said.

Cronje said the short-staffed ID, which has 21 financial investigators, was looking to recruit some of the experienced investigators already working for the Zondo commission when it ends to address its capacity challenges and its recruitment processes were “not picking up pace”.

“At the end of last year, we also managed to reach an agreement with the state capture commission to use the sophisticated technology that the commission has been able to amass, to sift through this data,” she said.

Hawks head Lt-Gen Godfrey Lebeya said there were 126 Covid-19 corruption cases already registered, with 101 still under investigation, 17 in court with 34 accused, while nine cases were closed.

DA MP Robert Lees slammed the NPA for its failure to ensure prosecution in the Steinhoff accounting fraud scandal which wiped out R216bn of its market value and cost investors.

National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shamila Batohi said everyone was eager for the Steinhoff case to get to a point where prosecutions against individuals could take place if evidence warranted so.

Batohi said the NPA was awaiting the final forensic investigation by accounting firm PwC to be finalised later this month to see if it could go ahead with prosecutions.

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