AFRICANGLOBE – South Africa’s largest law enforcement agency The Hawks want the country’s Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, prosecuted for “espionage” in a case related to the activities of the South African Revenue Service “rogue unit” established while he was the tax agency’s commissioner.
The move is likely to plunge the markets back into the turmoil seen in December last year when President Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister.
According to senior Hawks sources, the unit has handed over a case docket to the National Prosecuting Authority for a decision to prosecute Gordhan and eight other former SARS officials said to have been involved in or have had knowledge of the unit’s activities.
The unit has been accused of illegally gathering intelligence and spying on taxpayers.
Some of Gordhan’s cabinet colleagues were informed of his imminent arrest this week.
Insiders at the Hawks and the NPA told reporters that they were waiting for the “political go-ahead” before acting.
Gordhan would apparently be asked to appear in court to spare him “the embarrassment” of being handcuffed by officers.
Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi declined to comment.
NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku confirmed that prosecutors were now involved in the case.
“The case is prosecutor-driven as the Hawks approached the NPA for guidance,” said Mfaku. He denied a decision had been taken to prosecute.
“In the event that you are making specific reference to the so-called ‘SARS Rogue Unit’ investigation conducted by the [Hawks], it is incorrect that a decision has been made to prosecute anyone. The matter is still under investigation,” he said.
But highly placed NPA sources confirmed that national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams “is ready to prosecute”.
My understanding was that it is going to be done after local government elections
Police Minister Nathi Nhleko’s spokesman Musa Zondi did not respond and referred us to Nhleko.
Nhleko was not available at the time of going to press.
Gordhan’s office declined to comment.
There are fears that Gordhan’s arrest, in what is seen as a power struggle between the National Treasury and the Presidency, could spark a new crisis for the economy.
In December last year, Zuma’s axing of Nene wiped billions of rands from the markets.
The pending arrest comes after the country avoided a negative rating by ratings agency Moody’s this week. Moody’s cited Gordhan’s reappointment as one of the reasons that South Africa had avoided junk status.
“The reappointment of a respected former finance minister to the post following the intervention of the ANC leadership late last year, along with the more ambitious budget that the minister tabled in February, demonstrated determination to bring the public finances under control,” it said.
The arrest would widen the cracks within the ANC. Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe previously questioned the motive behind the investigation, saying the Hawks had intimidated Gordhan.
Gordhan is being accused of breaching the Intelligence Act for his role in the formation of the “rogue unit” when he headed SARS.
ANC sources said Gordhan’s arrest would result in a cabinet reshuffle that would see him being replaced by Eskom CEO Brian Molefe. His deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, would be replaced by recently sworn-in MP Sfiso Buthelezi, insiders say.
“If they arrest PG then they will say they need to bring in two people … the same thing that happened in December [when Nene was removed] is going to be re-enacted again.
“Now my sense is that it will happen after local government elections, but if the rumours are spreading so fast I am starting to suspect that it will happen before that,” said the insider.
A source close to the investigation said the Hawks had been talking to two former members of the “rogue unit” – Helgard Lombard and Johan de Waal – in a bid to convince them to testify against Gordhan and former acting commissioner Ivan Pillay.
Those who face arrest are Gordhan, Pillay, Lombard, De Waal, Gerrie Nel, Johann van Loggerenberg, Andrew Leask, Charl Fourie and Andries “Skollie” Janse van Rensburg.
Van Loggerenberg said his lawyers had written to the Hawks saying he was available to co-operate with any investigation. “I have done nothing wrong,” he said.
De Waal and Janse van Rensburg were not available for comment, while Nel did not respond to questions.
A source with intimate knowledge of the case said: “About two weeks ago we heard that they are planning on this thing … my understanding was that it is going to be done after local government elections.”
Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza, Abrahams and State Security Minister David Mahlobo are in charge of the investigation.
Zuma again defended his decision to replace Nene with little-known Des van Rooyen when he addressed the Gauteng ANC general council on Friday. He said he had consulted other ANC leaders about appointing Van Rooyen.
Presidency spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga had not responded to questions at the time of going to press.
In February this year, Hawks sent 27 questions to Gordhan regarding his role in the SARS rogue unit.
After first refusing to respond, Gordhan then replied, stating that as far as he was aware, the unit had acted lawfully.
By: Sabelo Skiti