UPDATE: Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has lashed out at the Independent Media group for "portraying me as a villain" in the story below. Read today's update: I'm not above the law, says Gordhan
Johannesburg - A bitter stand-off between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza has taken a turn for the worse, with Ntlemeza giving Gordhan an ultimatum to answer his 27 questions by tomorrow or face the consequences.
In a strongly-worded letter dispatched to Gordhan - through his lawyers yesterday - Ntlemeza says he will grant Gordhan until tomorrow at 4pm to answer “the questions I have given to him (Gordhan), but I will not accede to an indefinite period of indulgence as proposed in your letter.
“I therefore grant your client an extension of until Monday, March 14, 4pm, to answer the questions.”
Just days before he delivered his Budget speech last month, Ntlemeza sent Gordhan 27 questions relating to the controversial High Risk Investigative Unit that was formed during his tenure as SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner.
The so-called “rogue unit” is accused of having conducted illegal spying on taxpayers and politicians.
Gordhan missed Ntlemeza’s deadline citing lack of sufficient time because of his preparations for the Budget speech.
In his response to Ntlemeza on March 2, Gordhan asked on what authority Ntlemeza was questioning him.
Speaking through his lawyers, he asked Ntlemeza if he was “investigating any offence” and what the nature of that offence was. However, an unapologetic Hawks boss on Friday told Gordhan that the unit reserved its rights to invoke other powers conferred on it by law to ensure its investigation was not obstructed “by unco-operative conduct warranting resorting to other forms to ensure compliance”.
Ntlemeza said “Gordhan’s co-operation will be highly appreciated”.
In terms of the law, the Hawks may use Section 205 to compel Gordhan to answer the 27 questions on the “rogue unit”.
The “unit” is accused of illegally intercepting phone calls of taxpayers, bugging the offices of National Prosecuting Authority investigators, who were probing the then-police commissioner Jackie Selebi. The unit was formed in 2007 when Gordhan was still at Sars.
In his latest missive, Ntlemeza tells Gordhan that his response wasn’t “helpful because it does not say how many more days” he requires to answer the questions.
According to Ntlemeza, there is also no explanation from Gordhan as to why he waited till the last day to ask for an extension “when it seems that he (Gordhan) knew from the date he received my questions that he was not going to meet the deadline”.
In a letter to Gordhan’s lawyers, Ntlemeza says: “Your client should be aware of the powers of the DPCI as contained in Chapter 6A of the SAPS Act, and I have no doubt that your client respects those powers and the mandate of the DPCI to investigate independently and without fear, favour or prejudice.”
“Your question as to on what authority do I direct the questions to your client’ is baffling, and requires no response except to refer you to the powers of act, but I should add that I am not entering into a debate with you on this matter. All I require is for your client to co-operate by answering the questions that I have sent to him.”
Ntlemeza said it was important for Gordhan to co-operate with the investigation. He said the Hawks regarded this matter as important and it had identified Gordhan as one of the people who may have relevant information in assisting the investigation.
In a letter to Minister of State Security David Mahlobo in January, Ntlemeza stated that the police investigators believe they had prima facie evidence of the contravention of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communications-Related Information Act, 2002 (Act 70 of 2002). The unit was shut down by tax chief Tom Moyane last year following claims of illegal intelligence gathering. Moyane is a embroiled in an ugly dispute with Gordhan.
Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi refused to comment saying he would not be dealing with this matter through the media.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has previously leapt to Gordhan’s defence and accused Ntlemeza of economic sabotage for sending his questions to Gordhan just days before he delivered his budget speech.