Police question ‘M&G’ scribes over Mac Maharaj exposé

2012-07-27 00:00

THREE journalists from the Mail & Guardian were yesterday formally questioned as suspects in a criminal case opened by presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj, following the publishing of an article implicating him in the controversial arms deal.

Stefaans Brümmer, Sam Sole and editor Nic Dawes were in November last year charged with contravening the National Prosecutions Act of 1998 and theft of records, after publishing an exposé into allegations that Maharaj and his wife had received large sums of money from companies associated with the arms deal.

The three were asked to report for “warning interviews” at police offices in Pretoria yesterday regarding the charges, which date from November.

The newspaper, which was threatened with criminal prosecution and a 15-year jail term for the journalists if the story went to print, published the exposé anyway, but with about two-thirds of the article blanked out under a message “Censored”.

Maharaj was furious, saying it implied he had received bribes and had something to hide. He laid charges against the paper, as well as both Brümmer and Sole.

M&G investigative journalist Sole told The Witness yesterday that they had known for “about two weeks” that they would have to report to Pretoria for police interviews.

“The investigating office got hold of our lawyers and arranged for us to report to Pretoria,” he said.

After the charges were laid in November, he said they did not hear from the police or the NPA for a long time.

“We weren’t aware whether or not the police had found anything to investigate.”

Dawes said the questioning was a formal step indicating that the police were wrapping up their investigation and were ready to approach the National Prosecuting Authority about whether to prosecute.

A similar charge against City Press and Media24 Investigations (Media24i) was also laid.

Media24i editor Andrew Trench said they were in the dark as they had not been able to confer with Maharaj’s attorney.

City Press editor Ferial Hafajee told The Witness that they hadn’t heard anything in relation to the charges. “It’s a bit unclear on our side as we haven’t been able to confirm if criminal charges were laid against us.”

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” said Trench.

The SA National Editors’ Forum’s (Sanef) media freedom committee deputy chairperson, Raymond Louw, condemned the manner in which the authorities had dealt with the three M&G journalists.

“Sanef regards as questionable that the journalists were called to Pretoria to be ‘warned’ about a charge laid eight months ago and which appears not to have been acted upon in the interim.”

Maharaj’s attorney, Rudi Krause, said his client was happy that the matter was being investigated.

Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela said they conducted warning interviews with the three journalists “as part of a procedure”. “The decision of whether or not to prosecute will be taken by the NPA,” said Polela.

NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said they would deal with the matter once they had received the docket from the Hawks.

•lunga.biyela@witness.co.za

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