Scorpions boss to quit before the bell tolls

Angela Quintal and Karyn Maughan, Sunday Independent, Johannesburg, 2 March 2008

McCarthy will leave his post in June, but questions are being raised as to whether he is jumping ship before its reputation sinks altogether

Leonard McCarthy, the Scorpions boss, is apparently set to quit ahead of the closure of his doomed elite unit and his recent conduct has raised questions about whether he is leaving his colleagues and underlings to face the music alone.

McCarthy left Mokotedi Mpshe, the head of the national prosecuting authority (NPA), on his own to face the "bad faith" accusations against the elite unit by Jackie Selebi, the national police commissioner.

According to Wynanda Coetzee, Selebi's attorney, McCarthy has yet to even confirm the truthfulness of Mpshe's response to Selebi's now-aborted Pretoria high court application to ward off arrest.

"We did find it a bid odd … particularly as the application was focused on the Scorpions," she said.

After McCarthy undermined the Scorpions' success in parliament this week and failed to counter a parliamentary body's claims that the unit had been "involved in several illegal activities", reports are rife that he is preparing to leave the Scorpions behind.

Zolile Nqayi, the justice department spokesman, yesterday said that he was aware of reports that McCarthy had resigned, but added that "the future of Mr McCarthy and the DSO [Directorate of Special Operations, or the Scorpions] is something that "only he can comment on".

"We can't give timeframes on when that will be," he added.

Tlali Tlali, the NPA spokesman, said: "No formal resignation letter has been received from McCarthy."

Government officials have to give one month's written notice when they resign.

McCarthy is understood to have received several good job offers from abroad.

McCarthy and his unit came under fire during the past week over the Scorpions' controversial Special Browse Mole Report, which concluded that there were "strong indications that former deputy president Jacob Zuma was involved in a conspiracy which was a threat to the sovereignty and integrity of the South African state".

The joint standing committee on intelligence (JSCI) rubbished the document - which, Zuma has claimed before the Mauritian supreme court, suggested the case against him was politically motivated - and urged the government to take action against McCarthy and all the officials it found were involved in producing it.

The JSCI's report further accused the Scorpions of illegal intelligence-gathering, an issue that was identified two years ago by Judge Sisi Khampepe, who at the time made clear this was in conflict with the constitution.

The report concluded that "… the activities of the [Scorpions] in relation to the Browse Mole Report were very dangerous and against our national interest… [The report] has the potential of throwing our new democracy into chaos."

The same day as the JSCI's conclusions were released. McCarthy told parliament the perception that the Scorpions were better than the police was dangerous and misleading, adding that the 85 percent success rate attributed to the elite unit was inflated.

"That indicator [85 percent] is really taken much too far in the public domain. It is not really a success indicator if you look at it in isolation, because the DSO has the ability to select its cases. I must also add that probably 25 percent of our cases are disposed of through plea-bargaining," said McCarthy.

While not answering the JSCI's Browse Mole Report claims directly, saying that he first needed to study it, McCarthy hinted that an outside hand might be involved in "destablising" his unit.

Appearing in parliament, McCarthy again asked for an opportunity to brief MPs behind closed doors, revealing that the phones of Scorpions' staff members were being tapped and conversations intercepted and computers hacked. He also claimed that a secret report to President Thabo Mbeki from the Scorpions had been stolen.

It was not clear whether this was the Browse Mole Report.

McCarthy told MPs: "A secret report we sent to the president was lifted from our computers either through unauthorised access or through computer hacking because the real version that went to [Mbeki's office] is not the one that found its way into the public.

"An attorney who works for us sent an e-mail that was spammed from Willie Hofmeyr's computer … sent it to his computer to imply that we rigged it. I don't want to sound like a conspiracy theorist but there's another hand I can't read."

Selebi earlier accused the Scorpions of pursuing a corruption case against him out of their own desperate need for survival and failing to keep the president and other ministers informed of the investigation against him.

On Friday, about three weeks after Mpshe produced an affidavit detailing how Vusi Pikoli, the suspended prosecuting boss, and McCarthy had met repeatedly with Mbeki and his ministers about the case, Selebi dropped his case.

Through Coetzee, he said he believed he would prove his innocence in open court.


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