Pretoria - Civil society groups on Thursday criticised the Hawks for pursuing “a vilification campaign” against former SA Revenue Services officials, including Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg.
“Not only are the charges baseless, but the manner in which they have been pursued is clearly calculated to besmirch the names of the individuals and has predictably already impaired our national economy,” retired Constitutional Court Judge Johann Kriegler said in a statement read outside the the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) offices in Pretoria central, shortly after Pillay and Van Loggerenberg entered the building.
“Those behind this campaign of public vilification and persecution must have known this from the outset. Recent reports have suggested corrupt motives involving massive sums of money and/or tension between the Presidency and the Treasury. We do not have to speculate.”
Kriegler said the elite police unit, led by Berning Ntlemeza, was carrying out a one-sided investigation on the establishment and operation of the so-called rogue unit.
“Most disturbing of all is that none of those now being publicly humiliated was ever given a proper opportunity to answer the charges in the course of the one-sided ‘investigations’ of unsubstantiated allegations. Dragging in Minister Gordhan is all the more outrageous,” said Kriegler.
“The timing and manner of the steps against him evidence ill-will towards a loyal public servant who, together with Minister (Trevor) Manuel and their team of reformers, created arguably the most efficient government agency of the new South Africa. He doesn’t deserve this. Neither do we.”
Kriegler read out the statement on behalf of Freedom Under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation.
Civil society organisations led a protest at the Hawks offices on Thursday morning as Pillay and Van Loggerenberg arrived, after being summoned by the police unit.
Pillay and Van Loggerenberg entered the Hawks building along Visagie Street in Pretoria central before 9am, after greeting the activists including Mark Heywood of public interest law centre Section 27, Kriegler, Advocate George Bizos, and director of the Helen Suzman Foundation Francis Antonie.
The pair didn’t speak to the huge scrum of journalists awaiting at the entrance. Members of Right2Know where singing close-by. Members of AfriForum also arrived a short while later.
It emerged on Wednesday that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, also served with summons to go tothe Hawks office and sign a warning statement, would not be complying.
The letter the Hawks sent Gordhan reveals he is facing three criminal charges including allegations that he set up an investigation unit within the SARS, which gathered, collected and evaluated intelligence.
Gordhan, who said on Wednesday that he would ignore the Hawks summons, has already provided them with a full explanation to the charges and has denied any and all wrongdoing.
The stand-off has seen the rand weaken significantly and raised fears of a backlash from rating agencies.
Gordhan, Pillay and Van Loggerenberg were instructed on Monday to report to the Hawks on Thursday to receive warning statements - a step that could precede arrest - on allegations of contravention of two intelligence laws, and in Pillay’s case, of the Public Finance Management Act.
On Wednesday, a defiant Gordhan asked to be given space to do his job as investigators from the unit again targeted him and former revenue service colleagues in a move that hammered the rand.
On Wednesday, Gordhan in a statement issued by National Treasury said he had been advised by his lawyers that allegations made against him by the Hawks in a letter sent to him on Monday were “wholly unfounded on any version of events”.
The finance minister said he would not be available to meet the Hawks at 2pm on Thursday as requested.
Gordhan, however, said he would be prepared to assist a “bona fide” investigation by the Hawks to the best of his ability.
“I have a job to do in a difficult economic environment and serve South Africa as best I can. Let me do my job,” said Gordhan.
The allegations put to Pillay by the Hawks include that he had colluded with Oupa Magashule, who succeeded Gordhan as the head of the revenue service, to let the state bankroll his early retirement at 56 and thereafter irregularly secure a five-year contract as a consultant. The law only allows that for a three-year contract, according to documents seen by the African News Agency.
The letter sent to Pillay on Monday claims that he signed an agreement to serve in an acting capacity while knowing that the minister had granted approval only for a three-year term.
The allegations against Gordhan and his ex-colleagues have returned with renewed intensity since his re-appointed to the finance portfolio late last year after President Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene and briefly replaced him with Des van Rooyen, triggering a financial market crisis.
African News Agency