WHEN the much-pilloried Shaun Abrahams, national director of public prosecutions, eventually leaves office, we will all look back with wonder at what a sheep can do.

We already know of his bizarre sense of priority crimes requiring urgent and undivided attention – just contrast, for example, his determination to investigate and prosecute former financial minister, Pravin Gordhan, with his complete indifference to the gangsters running the country with the seeming connivance of the head of state.

Whether this is due to the supposed timidity that has led to his nickname – Shaun The Sheep – or because of other even less flattering personal attributes, is not clear at this stage, but a bizarre case from the sheep-farming district of the Eastern Cape emphasizes the problem.

It’s the matter of the national director of public prosecutions – yes, Abrahams – acting against a hapless small-time local building subcontractor, Frans Absolon.

On 26 August 2016 Absolon and his friend, Johann Fleurs, were driving in Absolon’s bakkie between Cradock and Cookhouse when they came across an accident: a large truck carrying 432 sheep had overturned. Only 43 had survived.

Absolon and Fleurs stopped, joining police, traffic officers, ambulance crews, members of the SPCA and general gawkers at the chaotic scene. Owner of the sheep, Steynsburg farmer Frederick Bekker, soon arrived with a vet.

In a subsequent affidavit Bekker said his broker told him the dead sheep belonged to his insurance company and he could not give them to anyone, not even to the vulture sanctuary that had requested the carcasses. His focus was on capturing and removing the live animals, and it was in any case too dangerous to try to stop determined looters taking away the dead sheep.

Three hours later Absolon, who claimed Bekker gave him nine carcasses as thanks for his help at the crash site, headed home with the dead animals in his bakkie and shared with them Fleurs.

Fast forward a few days, and we find the two men already arrested and charged for “possession of property for which they had no explanation”, though the charges were later withdrawn. And within a couple of weeks Absolon’s bakkie was impounded on the authority of the NDPP as “integral to the commission of the crime” with which he was charged.

When the NDPP brought a later court application for the bakkie to be forfeited to the state, Absolon opposed the action. Now Judge Elna Revelas has made her decision: a forfeiture order would be “arbitrary and a misdirection”, she said. The NDPP must return the bakkie at once and pay Absolon’s legal costs.

The judge said she had to consider the question of proportionality. Even if Absolon did not have Bekker’s permission to take the dead sheep, and even if the dead animals in fact “belonged” either to Bekker or to his insurance company, there were other factors to consider.

The law under which the NDPP wanted to confiscate the bakkie was intended to combat “organized crime, money laundering and criminal gang activities” but nothing that Absolon did fell into these categories. There was no premeditation; he did not plan or “organize” the sheep-snatch in advance and it was completely coincidental that he was on the scene at the time of the accident.

It was difficult to imagine what Bekker or the insurance company could have done with the dead sheep, she said, and there was no “proportionality” about the NDPP’s strategy. The bakkie was valued at around R90 000, for example, while “the value of the nine dead (but insured) sheep, which were in effect roadkill” was R13 000.

So there you see it: the NDPP in action, pulling out all the stops and producing truly urgent, efficient and effective use of time and resources to combat the national scourge of trafficking in roadkill.

NDPP v Absolon