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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 February 2008, 16:19 GMT
SA moves to scrap Scorpions unit
File photograph of Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma says the Scorpions are being used politically
South Africa's security minister has tabled a proposal in parliament calling for the FBI-style Scorpions special investigations unit to be disbanded.

The Scorpions was set up in 1999 to fight organised crime and corruption and works separately from the police.

It has led the investigations into African National Congress leader Jacob Zuma and ex-police chief Jackie Selebi.

The move has been condemned by the opposition, which says the ruling ANC is trying to protect its leader.

The BBC's Peter Greste in Johannesburg says the unit is one of the most effective crime fighting forces in South Africa but it has become embroiled in a bitter political row.

There are concerns that evidence in high profile cases could be lost if the Scorpions was incorporated into the police services.

'Separate'

From the moment Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula began talking about dissolving the Scorpions, parliament erupted into cheers and jeers.

The ANC's backbenchers applauded the move that the party leaders endorsed in December.
Scorpions logo

He said the Directorate of Special Operations would be disbanded and its investigation responsibilities taken away from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

"The Scorpions... will be dissolved and the organised crime unit of the police will be phased out and a new amalgamated unit will be created," he said.

"It is better to keep investigating units separate from prosecuting units for better command and control."

Our correspondent says there is still a lot of parliamentary procedure to go through before the Scorpions are finished as an independent force, but given the ANC's dominance it now seems inevitable.

Mr Zuma, who is favourite to become South Africa's president next year, has always said that the corruption charges against him are a political conspiracy.

He is due to go on trial in August.

The ANC wants the Scorpions to be disbanded by June and incorporated into the police force.

Earlier this month, a court provisionally charged the former police chief with corruption, accepting bribes worth 1.2m rand ($160,000, 80,000) and defeating the course of justice, after investigations by the Scorpions.

Mr Selebi was not required to plead but he has previously denied the charges.



SEE ALSO
SA's controversial police chief
11 Jan 08 |  Africa

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