Johannesburg - The Hawks have assured Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan he is not a suspect in their controversial SA Revenue Service (Sars) “rogue unit” investigation and that he would not be arrested.
This is revealed in correspondence between the unit and Gordhan’s lawyers this week following sensational reports of the imminent arrest of Gordhan that sent the rand plummeting and cast a dark cloud over the country’s political stability. The Sunday Independent has seen the letters.
On Friday, the unit’s head, Lieutenant-General Berning Ntlemeza, wrote to Gordhan’s lawyers, Gildenhuys Malatji Attorneys, saying: “I can assure you that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) will take no action sought to embarrass the minister or humiliate him, and it will take no steps which affect him without giving him prior notice.
“At this stage there should be no reason for the minister to be concerned. I hope this will allay the minister’s fears.”
Ntlemeza dismissed last weekend’s reports that the Hawks were about to arrest Gordhan as “malicious and false”.
The law firm had written to Ntlemeza on Wednesday seeking urgent clarity on whether Gordhan was a suspect in any Hawks’ investigation and, if so, what offence he was suspected of and how far the investigation had progressed.
The minister also asked Ntlemeza to clarify the facts on which the suspicion was based, and whether he would be given notice as soon as a decision was taken to prosecute him. Gordhan said the rumours of his imminent arrest were “distressing and a transparent attempt to intimidate” him.
“It is also intolerable that more information about the minister’s fate seems to be leaked to the media than it provided to the minister himself,” his lawyers wrote.
It remains to be seen whether Ntlemeza’s assurances would be enough to defuse the tension between Gordhan and the Hawks, which many see as a proxy fight on behalf of President Jacob Zuma.
The ugly spat widened this week. The SACP came out in Gordhan’s defence, accusing the Hawks of pursuing a political agenda to “isolate and target” him because of his stance against the looting of public resources.
The unit, however, accused the SACP of “peddling information” to undermine Ntlemeza.
SACP spokesman Alex Mashilo on Saturday was unrelenting, saying the party was going to pursue the issue both politically and legally.
“From the outset, this whole thing was handled problematically in a manner that creates problems for the integrity of the Hawks, the economy and the image of our democracy,” said Mashilo.
“We condemn in the strongest terms possible the use of state resources to pursue things other than the mandate for which they were created.”
Mashilo said the party stood behind Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, in protecting public resources.
The ANC’s other ally, Cosatu, which has recently tied itself to Zuma’s faction more closely than the SACP, took a more vacillating stance on the spat.
It lashed out at both parties for the “irresponsible manner in which they handled the whole issue”.
“They should now learn to be responsible. If there are issues, let them deal with them procedurally within the law... and not use the media,” said Cosatu president S’dumo Dlamini, a close Zuma ally.
“All we continue to call for is responsible behaviour by institutions of government and by ministers in government,” Dlamini added.
Cosatu has vehemently defended the controversial Gupta family - which is accused by many of using its ties to Zuma for self-enrichment through state-owned companies - after the country’s major banks closed the Gupta empire’s business accounts.
ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party had no comment to make on the latest developments. The party, however, during the week cautioned all involved to avoid any more unseemly public spats.
The ANC said it believed the story of Gordhan’s arrest was “planted to create perception of instability”.
Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said on Saturday: “We condemn the leaking of information to the media. This is a private matter. However, the truth has come out.”
Political analyst Steven Friedman said Gordhan was under pressure not only because of factional politics, but also because “he is going after people who want to rip off the public”.
However, related to this, Friedman said, are factional politics in the ANC and the succession battle ahead of next year’s leadership conference. “It’s a mixture of political factionalism and of people who are trying to get their hands on public money. What is happening here is that there is an attempt to undermine the minister, whether coming from the leadership of the Hawks or people within the unit, one doesn’t know. But they are trying to harass him, they are trying to intimidate him.”
Friedman said it was “highly unlikely” Gordhan would be charged. “I have seen documents relating to the Sars unit. There is no case against him. I don’t think anybody will try their luck. A lot of what we are seeing is also revolving around choices for the next ANC president.”