The spy tapes aren’t Zuma’s
Is the president employing delaying tactics, or is there something on those tapes he wants to hide from the DA and SA, asks Adriaan Basson
To fully understand the relevance of the current debate about the so-called Zuma spy tapes, it is important to remember that there were two sets of tapes.
The first set was leaked to Zuma and his attorney, Michael Hulley, in the summer of 2008. Zuma was off the hook for a while after Judge Chris Nicholson bizarrely ruled there was political interference in his prosecution.
This judgment was overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeal in early 2009, in effect restoring the charges against Zuma.
Zuma had to fight a national election in May 2009 and couldn’t afford a corruption cloud hanging over his head.
So the spy tapes came at a very handy time as Zuma’s legal team was preparing to make representations to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) on why the charges against him should be dropped.
Zuma’s political supporters – including Professor Sipho Seepe, former Judge Willem Heath and ANC heavyweight Lindiwe Sisulu – were punting a political or legal solution to Zuma’s corruption headache.
It is still unclear exactly who leaked the tapes to Zuma and Hulley, but there is overwhelming evidence that this first set came from the police’s crime intelligence division, which was fighting a turf war with the Scorpions at the time.
Hulley invited the NPA to come to his Durban office to listen to the tapes. Former acting National Director of Public Prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe sent his deputies, Willie Hofmeyr and Sibongile Mzinyathi, to Durban to listen to the tapes.
Hulley couldn’t unlock the encryption software he needed to play the tapes to them and they returned to Pretoria empty-handed.
A few days later, Hulley, a private attorney, came to Pretoria after obtaining the encryption software that is used by the state’s security agencies.
This time he managed to play the tapes to Hofmeyr and Mzinyathi. They weren’t allowed to keep copies of the tapes and could only make notes of what they heard.
They reported back to Mpshe that Zuma was in possession of recordings that showed Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy and former NPA head Bulelani Ngcuka were discussing the timing of Zuma’s charges in relation to the ANC’s December 2007 Polokwane conference.
Realising the seriousness of the allegations and the impact it could have on their case against Zuma, Mpshe wrote to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the police’s crime intelligence division, asking if they had similar tapes that were obtained with the permission of a judge.
Neither Hulley nor Zuma have ever stated whether the recordings they were given were obtained lawfully and legally.
The NIA responded to Mpshe, confirming that they had intercepted McCarthy’s calls as part of their investigation into the Scorpions’ Browse Mole report. The cops didn’t respond.
Browse Mole was an intelligence document claiming that Zuma had received financial support from African leaders, including the slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, to topple Mbeki at Polokwane.
At his press briefing on April 6 2009, during which he announced the dropping of the Zuma charges, Mpshe confirmed that they received these recordings from the NIA. This was the second set of tapes.
“NIA indicated that it was able to share these legally with the NPA for the purposes of the investigation and for reaching a decision in this matter. Thus the NPA was able to make transcripts of the relevant portions of the recordings for this purpose and NIA has declassified these transcripts as they are not relevant to its own investigation.
“The NPA is thus confident that its decision is based on information that was intercepted legally and obtained legally by the NPA.
The transcripts contain material that was of vital importance in the NPA reaching its decision, and the NPA has decided to make its contents public as it believes it is in the public interest to do so. The transcripts have been declassified. The NPA believes that there is no legal impediment to its doing so,” Mpshe said.
On the same day he released “relevant portions” of the interceptions, showing McCarthy, Ngcuka, businessman Mzi Khumalo and others discussing the timing of Zuma’s case.
The current legal dispute between the DA, the NPA and Hulley is about whether the full transcript of the NIA tapes should be given to the DA or not.
This may include portions that were not released by Mpshe to the media for a variety of reasons.
The DA says they are entitled to the full transcript as it is clear, and confirmed by Mpshe, that this was the main and only reason the charges against Zuma were dropped. During his press briefing, Mpshe confirmed the withdrawal had nothing to do with the merits of the charges or the fairness of the trial.
The NPA believes they were obliged to show Hulley a copy of the full transcript first if he had any objection to it being disclosed to the DA.
Hulley has now objected and says Zuma will go to court to prevent the DA from having access to the full transcript of the NIA tapes – recordings that weren’t given to him in the first place or belong to him or Zuma.
Is this a delaying tactic? Zuma wouldn’t want the spy tapes saga to be back in the news before Mangaung. Or is there something on those tapes, maybe in relation to the Browse Mole investigation, that the president would want to hide?
» Basson is the author of Zuma Exposed (Jonathan Ball), which will be available nationwide from November 15