Presidency condemns ‘info peddlers’ – Denies Gordhan arrest rumours

by Rene Vollgraaff

(Bloomberg) — The office of South Africa President Jacob Zuma denied that the finance minister would be arrested or replaced, refuting a Sunday Times report that said a special police unit has sent to prosecutors the docket of its probe into Pravin Gordhan.

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa's finance minister, right, sits beside Jacob Zuma, South Africa's president, left, before delivering his 2016 budget speech to parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016. Gordhan stuck to a pledge to bring down the budget deficit, targeting civil-servant jobs and increasing wealth taxes to stave off a credit-rating downgrade to junk. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg
Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister, right, sits beside Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, left, in parliament Cape Town. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

The so-called Hawks police unit completed its investigation of Gordhan and eight other former officials over their alleged involvement in a special agency within the national revenue service, the Sunday Times reported. A prosecution may prompt Zuma to replace Gordhan, who ran the service until 2009, with  Brian Molefe, chief executive officer of the state-owned utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., the newspaper said, citing unidentified officials in the ruling African National Congress party.

Within hours, Zuma’s office issued two statements denying the finance chief was about to be replaced, and noting denials of law enforcement agencies that an arrest was imminent. “The story is the work of dangerous information peddlers who wish to cause confusion and mayhem in the country,” spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said in an e-mailed statement.

Gordhan, 67, was reappointed in December to the post he held from 2009 until 2014 after Zuma came under pressure from political and business leaders for naming little-known lawmaker David van Rooyen as finance minister, triggering a four-day rout that sent the rand to a record low against the dollar. Gordhan has been engaged in a public feud with the police over the investigation.

The Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks, has questioned Gordhan about a special unit that was established in the South African Revenue Service in 2007 while he was tax commissioner. The minister has said that based on legal advice, establishing the unit was lawful, it performed its function within the law and was funded through the normal budgetary processes applicable to the tax authority.

The unit in the Revenue Service is “still under investigation, no decision has been made to prosecute any person,” National Prosecuting Authority spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said by phone on Sunday.

Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi in a telephone interview said Sunday the unit is “distancing ourselves from such a report” on prosecuting Gordhan and said he knows nothing about a docket.

National Treasury spokeswoman Phumza Macanda couldn’t immediately respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment. Eskom spokesman Khulu Phasiwe in a text message referred queries to the president’s office. ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa declined to comment when reached on his mobile phone.

Presidency media statement

The Presidency condemns the actions of information peddlers who keep spreading rumours about alleged changes in the Cabinet of President Jacob Zuma.

Ministers serve at the pleasure of the President. He has the prerogative to hire and fire Ministers at any time. Despite that, the Presidency issued a statement recently communicating that there were no plans to change the Minister of Finance. Information peddlers have also been spreading false rumours about changes in the Department of Trade and Industry. A statement was also issued recently rebutting the DTI rumours.

The President and Government are focused on the goal of uniting business, labour, government and the whole country behind the mission of strengthening the economy and reigniting growth during the current difficult economic climate. A lot of progress is being made in this regard and work will continue to fight the slow growth so that jobs can be saved and created.

Secondary presidential media statement

The Presidency has noted the story in the Sunday Times alleging an imminent arrest of the Minister of Finance. We have also noted the response of law enforcement agencies which have swiftly denied the rumour. It is clear therefore that the story is the work of dangerous information peddlers who wish to cause confusion and mayhem in the country.

President Zuma and the whole of government are focused on the goal of reigniting economic growth, preserving existing jobs and creating more jobs through working together with business and labour. A lot of progress is being made in this regard as was seen in the outcomes of the meeting convened by President Zuma last week.