Maharaj evidence stays secret

2012-01-13 12:39

The South African public will not be allowed to know what Mac Maharaj, President Jacob Zuma’s chief spin-doctor and a former transport minister, told state anti-corruption investigators.

That’s the decision of the acting Director of Public Prosecutions, Advocate Nomgcobo Jiba, in response to a request by Media24 Investigations and City Press for permission to publish transcripts of the evidence of Maharaj and his wife, Zarina, to investigators in 2003.

The investigation was into allegations of corruption involving state transport tenders issued while Maharaj was transport minister and payments from now convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik and French company Thales to accounts connected to the Maharaj couple. A Shaik-linked company and Thales won the tenders.

The testimony has become the focus of renewed scrutiny after evidence emerged which appeared to show that Maharaj and his wife had lied to the then-Scorpions about payments from Shaik and their active foreign bank accounts.

Late last year, Media24 Investigations uncovered a Gauteng North High Court file which contained the transcripts – made available by the Maharaj couple – as well as detailed correspondence between the Maharaj couple’s attorneys and the Scorpions and City Press published extensive details of the correspondence.

Media24 Investigations and City Press applied to the national director of Public Prosecutions, as legally required, to publish details of the transcripts, arguing their public interest and the fact that they were effectively in the public domain because of the court application.

The Mail & Guardian newspaper had made a similar application earlier following their publication of a “censored” account of the affair which led to Mac Maharaj laying a criminal complaint against them. Maharaj’s lawyer also claimed to have laid a criminal charge against Media24 Investigations and City Press although no trace of the complaint can be located.

Yesterday, Jiba declined Media24’s request to publish, saying it was not the policy of the NPA to disclose such evidence given to investigators.

She said the law which banned disclosure of the evidence was “very necessary for the combatting of crime and corruption, both then and now”.

Jiba said this limitation on freedom of expression and press freedom was justified.

Even though the Maharaj couple had effectively made the testimony public through their court application, the head of the NPA had to consider the interests of others. “These would include persons who are referred to both by the witness in evidence and in questions that may be put to the witness during the inquiry.”

She referred to the newly-launched commission of inquiry into the arms deal “and the possibility cannot be ruled out that this matter may well feature therein”.

Jiba also referred to the criminal investigation into media reports about the Maharaj testimony and said permission to publish the Maharaj evidence could affect that probe.

– Media24 Investigations

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