PROFILE: NPA’s Hermione Cronje ready to swoop
Looters of the state beware: the tenacious and gutsy prosecutor who will head the NPA’s new directorate will follow the evidence, wherever that trail may lead
The investigating director tasked with putting those who have captured the state behind bars lightly jumped from the stage in dark red heels following her first press briefing at the headquarters of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in Pretoria.
Hermione Cronje looked as if she had just conquered the world.
The new investigating directorate she heads will hopefully give the NPA the teeth it needs to put looters and the corrupt behind bars.
The anticorruption expert sailed through her first public briefing. Her comments were measured, but she came across as sincere and honest. Evident, also, was the easy energy she has in common with national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi.
She doesn’t wear a cape, though, and Cronje makes it clear that even though the public wants those who have looted state coffers to face the law, she is not a superhero.
But with the appointment of Batohi, and now Cronje, President Cyril Ramaphosa has helped to restore the integrity and credibility of the NPA.
The 47-year-old’s CV speaks for itself. She is an internationally recognised anticorruption expert with extensive experience at the NPA. In 1998 she played a role in the establishment of the Investigating Directorate: Serious Economic Offences and the Investigating Directorate: Organised Crime. She was one of the founding members of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the NPA, and played a role in setting up the anticorruption task team before she left the NPA in 2011.
Her international experience includes being appointed as an expert consultant for the Stolen Assets Recovery Initiative, a World Bank and UN initiative. And she has advised the asset recovery and anticorruption units in several countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and Europe.
That background — and her reputation as a "tenacious" prosecutor — was enough for the announcement of her appointment to be given approval from across the political spectrum.
A glimpse into Cronje’s gutsy nature came when she and Batohi faced off with police commissioner Khehla Sitole. They were pressed about prosecuting cases which arose from investigations done by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid). Sitole himself is subject to an Ipid investigation. Batohi said everyone from the president downwards would be prosecuted if the evidence required it.
Cronje confidently said she would be led by the evidence. "Unfortunately for the commissioner, if the evidence points to his culpability, he will be dealt with."
Sitole could merely look on awkwardly as he sat beside the two dynamic women who had just given him a very public warning to his face.
Just like Batohi, Cronje’s return to the NPA follows years in which the prosecuting authority was accused of being a tool of the dark forces that captured the state.
Asked by the FM whether she had political support from the president to do her job, she responded pragmatically: "He did look into my background. I’m not exactly a compliant type.
"So the fact that he decided that I’m the person for the job gives me the confidence that he’s serious, and I take a lot of encouragement from that."
But she’s under no illusion that support will not come from everywhere. "I expect there will be a lot of unhappiness, given where we say we will focus. I am aware it’s not a popularity contest."