There is no investigation into Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, the Hawks confirmed, despite a series of questions sent that were alleged to be sent to him about his knowledge of a so-called “rogue” intelligence unit that allegedly operated at the SA Revenue Service during his term as commissioner there.
President Jacob Zuma and the ANC launched a damage-control exercise after news broke of the letter to Gordhan, with both of them expressing their full confidence in him.
However, they contradicted one another on the motives behind the letter.
Whereas ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe described the developments as “a well-calculated destabilisation plan with all the elements of disinformation, falsehoods and exaggerated facts”, Zuma dismissed such concerns as “rumours and gossip which insinuate some conspiracy against Minister Gordhan”.
“These baseless rumours and gossip will not deter or divert government from moving forward with promoting fiscal consolidation and pushing for inclusive growth and job creation,” Zuma said.
The DA’s David Maynier said, “The standoff between the minister of finance and President Zuma has now escalated into an all-out civil war over Sars. The only way of avoiding a mutual distraction and uncovering the truth is through a full judicial commission of inquiry.”
Although the Presidency has rubbished claims of a conspiracy against Gordhan, The City Press says it has spoken to a senior government official, who says the minister should not expect any help in his legal battles from Zuma.
The official says the president has been advised not to interfere as that would amount to defeating the ends of justice.
The case against the finance minister relates to his approval of the unit’s operations, among other things.
Gordhan described the letter as an attempt to “intimidate and distract” him and the Treasury from their work in preparing the Budget. When asked if this was an investigation or a general inquiry, he laughed and said ” the hawks are not investigating me” but a so called unit described in the inquiry letter sent.
“There is a group of people that are not interested in the economic stability of this country and the welfare of its people,” Gordhan said.
“It seems they are interested in disrupting institutions and destroying reputations.”
He said he had deliberately kept quiet about the Hawks letter, which he received last Thursday, to avoid jeopardising the government’s reaction to the Budget and efforts to improve investor confidence.
He was warned in the letter not to “interfere with state witnesses”, without being told who they were.
He would, if necessary, take legal action to protect himself and the Treasury from “whatever elements (are) seeking to discredit me, the institution and its integrity”.
He could say “categorically” that the Hawks had nothing to investigate him for. Gordhan thanked the ANC for “the support I have now received”, and for its determination to ensure “vital state institutions” such as the Treasury and Sars were not damaged.
Mantashe said the timing of the letter from the Hawks “indicates clearly that there was intention to distract the minister” as he put the finishing touches to this week’s Budget.
Gordhan’s efforts to restore investor confidence were being undermined in an attempt to “reverse the gains our economy has made and have a destabilising effect in the long term”, Mantashe maintained.
It was “disconcerting” that the questions to Gordhan had been leaked. The ANC had “reliable information” as to who was responsible and would “be engaging the person”.
“In the event that the Hawks have anything to investigate related to the minister and Sars, it would be in the best interests of our country if they did so professionally, using the correct channel and procedures, and not seek to conduct a trial through the media.”
Zuma said he would not comment on “matters in the media environment relating to Sars which are being handled by law-enforcement agencies, as this may impact on their work and independence”.
But it was unclear which agencies he was referring to, after Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said it was not investigating Gordhan.
There was also no complaint against him.
He would not say what prompted the letter to Gordhan.
Zuma’s spokesman did not respond to a query about which law-enforcement agencies the president had been referring to.