Weathering the paper storm

2011-11-23 00:00

“I WAS under investigation worldwide by the Scorpions and other investigation agencies from 2002 to 2008. And I was not prosecuted.”

This was presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj’s response yesterday when he was asked whether he lied to the Scorpions during that time.

Maharaj is currently trying to weather a media storm of allegations that he lied to the Scorpions when they questioned him in connection with the arms deal several years ago.

He told the National Press Club in Pretoria yesterday that the question is unfair and inappropriate, since it involves his fundamental rights.

It has also been alleged that between 1997 and 1999 Maharaj received bribes running into millions of rand from the French arms company Thales.

“I have never been involved in any bribery or corruption and have not broken any law,” he emphasised.

Maharaj said he is being judged on the basis of two newspaper reports that created the impression that new information has come to light.

“I am now even being asked to resign. What do you want me to do? Become a street-sweeper? Then people will say the municipality shouldn’t employ me with taxpayers’ money.”

Maharaj said he does not know how the allegations landed up in the newspapers. “I don’t want to think about it, because it will just make me paranoid.”

He said it cannot be argued that he escaped prosecution at the time because of friends in high places. “Bulelani Ngcuka [the former national director of public prosecution] was not my friend. Nor was [Thabo] Mbeki.

“Mbeki changed the Hefer Commission’s terms of reference twice after I had already appeared before it, and he also refused the commission certain information. They were definitely not my friends.”

Maharaj said there is a misrepresentation that he did something wrong and wants to hide it. He said the Mail & Guardian’s decision to cover parts of his report with black blocks and label him a liar created this impression.

The newspaper decided not to publish the contents of the Scorpions interview conducted at the time because it is protected against publication in terms of the National Prosecution Authority Act.

Maharaj said accusations that he tried to gag the Mail & Guardian are uncalled for. “There is evidence that the Mail & Guardian committed a criminal act. I did what the law said and laid a charge. The police have to investigate it and the court will decide whether the newspaper did, in fact, commit a crime.” Maharaj said media diversity and freedom of speech are an “absolute requirement” for a democracy, but an informed public is necessary to conduct a rational debate rather than an emotional debate.”

The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Maharaj and his wife Zarina received millions of rands in kickbacks related to the arms deal.

Maharaj said the newspaper published only one sentence of his three-sentence response to its questions.

---

Mac sets Hawks on ‘M&G’

Presidency spokesman Mac Maharaj’s criminal charges against the Mail&Guardian are to be investigated by the Hawks, police said yesterday.

Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini confirmed that the case, which was opened against the newspaper by Maharaj’s lawyers at Park View police station, has been transferred to the Hawks.

Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela could not immediately be reached for comment, but Mail&Guardian editor Nic Dawes labelled the decision to get the Hawks to investigate as “an abuse of state resources to go after our sources”.

Dawes said he “found it extraordinary” that state resources were “being used by a politician on a fishing expedition”.

“He wants to know who gave us the document and what we know,” said Dawes, adding that the Hawks could be better utilised fighting crime.

Dawes said a letter had been e-mailed and faxed to National Director of Public Prosecutions Menzi Simelane yesterday regarding the use of information allegedly implicating Maharaj in illegal kickbacks.

He said a hard copy of the letter would be physically handed over today.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said by lunchtime on Tuesday he was not aware that the letter had been received by the NPA and was as a result not prepared to comment. — Sapa.

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