Hermione Cronje. Picture: SOWETAN
Hermione Cronje. Picture: SOWETAN

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s appointment of advocate Hermione Cronje to head the new investigating directorate has been described by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as an “important step” in ending “impunity for serious crimes, including corruption”.

Cronje’s appointment on Friday for  a five-year term sets the stage for national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi to reveal more about the new directorate — the first such unit to be established since the disbanding of the Scorpions.

Batohi will on Friday introduce Cronje to the public at a press briefing, where she will discuss the legal framework, powers and duties of the directorate and provide an overview of its next steps and priorities. She will provide an update on other interventions and developments at the NPA since she assumed office in February.

Like Batohi, Cronje has significant experience in the NPA but has not been a part of the institution since 2011; she has been practicing as an advocate and is a member of the Cape bar.

The investigating directorate she will lead is tasked with investigating common-law offences that have arisen, among others, out of the commissions of inquiry into state capture, the SA Revenue Service and the Public Investment Corporation.

Cronje has been hailed for her experience, with the NPA saying she has the academic qualifications, wealth of knowledge and practical expertise required for this crucial position.

“She is highly regarded in the law enforcement community as a tenacious energetic and competent woman and is therefore well placed to co-ordinate with the investigating directorate’s key partners notably the SA Police Service and, in particular, the directorate for priority crime investigation,” the NPA said.

The NPA said Cronje is internationally recognised as an anticorruption expert.  In 1998 she was involved in establishing the investigating directorates into serious economic offences  and organised crime in the NPA. She was also one of the founding members of the asset forfeiture unit, and played a role in establishing the anti-corruption task team.

Lawson Naidoo, executive secretary of the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution, said Cronje’s is an “excellent appointment”. However, her success would depend on the team she is able to assemble, as well as the resources made available to the directorate, he said.

No money was set aside for the investigating directorate in the 2019/2020 budget, but the criminal assets recovery account — an account into which money and property are deposited following a judicial forfeiture or confiscation order — could be used to fund it in the meantime.

DA MP and former senior state prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach welcomed Cronje’s appointment, calling her  a competent and “very tenacious” prosecutor.

“I think she is straight up and down,” Breytenbach said, but warned that such appointments mean little without an adequate budget and resources.