CAPE TOWN – Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Tuesday described reports of his imminent arrest as shocking and said allegations of espionage levelled against him were manufactured for ulterior motive.
“The recent media reports about my arrest – imminent or not – have been extremely distressing for my family and me,” Gordhan said two days after a Sunday Times report.
* Full statement embedded below.
The report stated Cabinet colleagues had been warned that Gordhan would be arrested in connection with alleged wrongdoing by an intelligence gathering unit that was set up when he was the South African Revenue Service commissioner.
“I cannot believe that I am being investigated and could possibly be charged for something I am completely innocent of. I have answered the questions submitted by the Hawks, and have not heard from them. I was not aware of any impending charges or further investigations until the [media] reports in the past weekend,” the minister continued.
Gordhan said nobody was above the law, “but no one should be subjected to the manipulation of the law and agencies for ulterior motives”.
The statement came hours after the ANC chairman of Parliament’s standing committee of finance issued a blunt call for hostility between National Treasury and the current leadership of SARS to stop.
In an exceptional acknowledgement of infighting within the ruling party, Yunus Carrim said: “It is one government and one ANC, at least in a limited sense it is one ANC. Don’t jump us with your problem.
“Sort this thing out. The crucial people are the commissioner, the minister, the deputy president, the president, and the ANC office, to the extent it is relevant. We are fed up, is what we are communicating to you. We cannot afford this thing, this impasse.”
His remarks followed a briefing by SARS commisioner Tom Moyane and finance director-general Lungisa Fuzile on the quarterly reports of SARS and the National Treasury, which saw MPs from the opposition and the ANC express concern about the hostile relationship between Gordhan and Moyane.
On Moyane’s watch, senior figures from Gordhan’s time as tax commissioner have been forced to leave the revenue service amid a narrative — maintained tirelessly by the new SARS boss — that a unit established during that period were involved in illicit spying.
READ: We never threatened Gordhan – Sars
The press report that Gordhan would be arrested was swiftly denied by Zuma’s office on Sunday, but Gordhan has been seen as a political target since he was brought back to the finance portfolio in December.
It emerged shortly after Gordhan delivered the 2016 budget in February that days earlier he had been sent a list of questions relating to the intelligence unit, which he insists was established legally. This prompted ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe to say there was a plot to undermine Gordhan. The presidency also issued a denial on this occasion.
It is widely reported that Gordhan has asked Zuma replace Moyane but that the president is resisting this, and blocking plans by the minister to name a new board for the national airline that would exclude the controversial chairwoman Dudu Myeni, who is seen as close to Zuma and is executive chair of his education fund.
Gordhan on Tuesday evening said he had sought legal advice and his counsel would approach the leadership of both the elite investigating unit the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority for further information and clarity.
READ: Gordhan: Hawks have no regard for South Africans
Claims, backed by current SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, that an intelligence gathering unit within the service turned “rogue” saw the Hawks send questions to Gordhan days before he delivered South Africa’s 2016 budget in February, in turn drawing a warning from ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe that there was a political plot to undermine the minister
READ: Nhleko defends Hawks’s question to Gordhan
“I worked together with over ten thousand staff for a decade to transform SARS into a world class revenue and customs administration. We built the revenue service into an efficient and effective institution that provided the increasing fiscal resources to enable government to provide social grants. SARS and the specialist investigative units therein operated within the law during my time as the commissioner,” Gordhan said.
“The malicious rumours and accusations about ‘espionage’ activities are false and manufactured for other motives.”
“It is particularly painful to me, and I’m sure to many earnest democrats, to witness this unrestrained attack on honest and hardworking people and the institutions meant to strengthen our democracy… I appeal to all South Africans to protect the National Treasury staff, who have diligently, honestly and skillfully served the national interest to the best of their ability.”