Pravin charges: parties ask why now?

By LEBOGANG SEALE And BALDWIN NDABA Time of article published Oct 12, 2016

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Johannesburg - A ferocious war of words erupted on Tuesday after the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to prosecute Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on fraud charges.

Civil-society groups and politicians questioned the motive and timing of the legal action, as did Gordhan, who said he was “taken aback”.

He was charged along with former South African Revenue Service officials, deputy commissioner Oupa Magashula and deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.

The charges relate to the approval of an early retirement package for Pillay in 2010.

“They are being charged on three counts in respect of R1.1 million for “misrepresenting the government insurance fund and Sars that Pillay was entitled to full pension benefits whereas they knew well that severance package was not applicable to him”, said NPA head Shaun Abrahams.

DA MP David Maynier described the charges as a disaster. He said the timing was questionable and that the rand was plummeting.

The ACDP said the timing of the charges raised more questions. Party leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe said the charges were lodged against the minister at the same time that Zuma was demanding evidence of witnesses who gave evidence against him to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela on state capture.

Gordhan said he had been caught unawares by the charges because his legal team had “extensive interactions” with the Hawks over the last six months about the matter.

Despite that, he said, the Hawks chose to arrive unannounced at his private residence on Tuesday morning and, on being told that the minister was not home, they proceeded to the National Treasury office to serve the summons.

Gordhan said the charges were “without merit” as they were “of an administrative - and not legal - nature”.

Gordhan made the same assertions through his lawyers. He questioned the fraud charges, which he said were not related to the earlier charges of his alleged role in the establishment of the Sars “rogue unit” and threw down the gauntlet to the state to prove it.

During a hastily convened media conference about the arrest, Abrahams said: “The days of unaccountability and not holding senior government officials accountable are over.”

Gordhan said, however, that Abrahams had chosen to dwell on allegations concerning the Sars investigative unit, which he hadn’t yet been able to prosecute.

“It is quite clear that these legal proceedings are contaminated by abuse for political ends,” he added, urging South Africans to stand up against the wanton abuse of power.

“This is a moment where all South Africans need to ask whose interests these people in the Hawks, the NPA and the NDPP (National Director of Public Prosecutions) are advancing. Where do they get their political instructions from and for what purpose?”

Gordhan said that while he was prepared to subject himself to the legal process to bring the matter to rest, the cause of defending ethical leadership in the government and society “is too important to allow ourselves to be deterred by this kind of harassment”.

“The fight against corruption, maladministration and waste of public resources will continue.”.

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution said the decision to charge Gordhan was proof of double standards as the NPA was opposing the reinstatement of criminal charges against President Jacob Zuma.

“The independence of Mr Abrahams remains unproven. This is a major test of both his and the NPA’s impartiality. The protestation of prosecutorial independence by Mr Abrahams appears hollow when measured against his attitude towards pursuing charges of fraud, corruption and racketeering against President Zuma,” said Casac executive secretary Lawson Naidoo.

Gauteng Premier David Makhura assured Gordhan of his support.

“I... without a fear of contradictions we believe in your ethical leadership... I say this without a doubt that many South Africans feel the same. The truth will come out; the truth is too strong to be kept a secret.”

The ANC in Parliament said it backed Gordhan and believed in his innocence. ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu described Gordhan as an honest man. - Additional reporting by Siyabonga Mkhwanazi

The Star

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