090314. Congress of the People(COPE) leader Mosiuoa Lekota address his supporters during COPE manifesto launch rally which took place at Bloemfontein Showgrounds in Bloemfontein, Free State Province. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Bloemfontein - Cope president Mosiuoa Lekota has defended Julius Malema, saying the Economic Freedom Fighters leader was a “young, innocent” victim whose name was used by corrupt government officials and businessmen to steal taxpayers’ money.

He said senior ANC politicians and bureaucrats misled the then ANC Youth League president into accumulating a R16 million tax bill by secretly bankrolling him.

Addressing thousands of Cope members who packed the Bloemfontein Showgrounds for the party’s election manifesto launch on Sunnday, Lekota seemed to sympathise with Malema while addressing thousands of Cope members on the need to fight government corruption.

He painted a picture of Malema as a victim of crooks who used his name to siphon off taxpayers’ money to line their pockets.

The Cope leader questioned how Malema had amassed so much money by himself, at such a young age, to end up owing Sars such a huge amount of money. Malema turned 33 last week.

“They say Julius owes R16 million in tax. How does he owe tax of R16m? How much were they paying him? You see, they tell us he owed that money, but they don’t tell us what was his source of income, where did he get such amounts of money to owe that amount,” said Lekota.

Last month, Malema was placed under provisional sequestration by the Pretoria High Court for his outstanding tax bill.

He is fighting the move in court. The SA Revenue Service has already seized Malema’s assets – including houses, cars and a farm – to recoup part of the R16m.

Malema has maintained his innocence, claiming Sars was fighting President Jacob Zuma’s political battles and applied double standards by ignoring others who had multimillion-rand tax bills – allegations that Sars repeatedly and vehemently dismissed.

Lekota said the biggest loss to the country’s resources was caused by “men and women in the private and public sector collaborating to steal our money”.

“That’s how Malema could have so much money. It was not Malema who stole the money, it was the ones who were controlling the government that stole the money and passed it to him, and it was recorded in his name, and that’s why he has been accused of owing R16m in tax,” he said.

To loud applause, Lekota added: “He’s a young, innocent person who didn’t know. It’s sad. It is sad that men and women with whom he entrusted his life did what they did to him.

“If there’s any one of you who knows how to explain this, write to the Sunday Times, put it on the TV and educate us – perhaps you have the answers we may not know.”

Shifting his focus to the party’s manifesto and its promises to the voters, Lekota said Cope was not in the business of dishing out Christmas presents and gifts.

In a thinly veiled attack on Zuma, who said during his State of the Nation address that he had a “good story to tell”, Lekota said: “We are not going to tell you some pleasant, entertaining stories, something that will make you feel great. We are not going to tell you fiction.

“We’re going to talk to you about the hard reality of our country, of our lives.

“There is not such a life of Christmas presents every day. It exists nowhere. So we must start by telling you the truth about our country, because we are the men and women of the truth.

“We must tell you that as we stand here today, our country has no money, we have no money as a nation.”

Lekota also took a swipe at the youth employment incentive scheme that promised companies money in exchange for employing more young people.

“We can’t solve unemployment by giving out handouts. We can’t promise you presents because there is no money in the national fiscus to buy you presents and give you presents.”

Lekota said the government had paid all its debts after the administrations of Zuma’s predecessors – Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki.

He added that Cope was the custodian of Mandela’s legacy.

Political Bureau