JOHANNESBURG (AFP) — South African President Thabo Mbeki has suspended the chief prosecutor because of an "irretrievable breakdown" in his relationship with the justice minister, a government statement said Monday.
Vusi Pikoli, 49, director of public prosecutions and head of the National Prosecuting Agency (NPA), was suspended "on the basis of an irretrievable breakdown in the working relationship" with the minister, it said.
This "had adverse implications" for the NPA, the prosecuting arm of the justice ministry, and the functioning of the criminal justice system, it said, without giving further details.
The government said it would set up a panel to probe Pikoli's role.
In the meantime, the functioning of the justice system "will not be compromised, especially within the context of the collective challenge to fight crime", it said.
Last May, Pikoli had warned in parliament of persistent "attacks" on the NPA by senior officials of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and its affiliates.
"You can criticise us, but don't scandalise us," he was quoted in the media as saying.
The Directorate of Special Operations, a multi-disciplinary agency that investigates corruption and organised crimes such as drug and human trafficking, is a unit under the NPA.
The leader of South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party, Helen Zille, said Pikoli's suspension was a "serious development" that needed further explanation.
"This is a very serious development and the country needs to know why Pikoli has been suspended," she said, adding that her party would immediately call on parliament's justice committee to discuss the issue.
The South African Communist Party (SACP), an ally of the government, said it was time for an overhaul of the entire NPA, not just its leadership.
"We need to overhaul and rebuild national confidence in the NPA which has lost its credibility with the people. It has conducted itself in an unacceptable manner," spokesman Malesela Maleka said without giving details.
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