Is Pravin off the hook?

2016-10-30 06:00
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

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‘Informal discussions” are under way between National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams, his close allies in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) as well as lawyers of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his two co-accused to drop the charges against them.

City Press has learnt that yesterday, a draft letter was compiled by Abrahams’ office, communicating his intention to drop the charges.

The letter will be sent to lawyers for Gordhan and his former SA Revenue Service (Sars) deputies Oupa Magashula and Ivan Pillay, before they appear in court on Wednesday.

A senior NPA official close to Abrahams, and a source close to Gordhan and his co-accused, both confirmed to City Press that talks were being held to drop the fraud charges against Gordhan and the others.

In the letter, Abrahams allegedly writes that he has considered the representations made by Magashula and Pillay, and has decided to decline to prosecute them and Gordhan.

Gordhan, who was charged with fraud after signing off his approval of Pillay’s early retirement in 2009, refused to make representations to Abrahams.

At the time, his lawyer Tebogo Malatji said it was because “he does not have any confidence in [Abrahams’] ability or willingness to afford him a fair hearing”.

A source close to the minister told City Press yesterday that he heard on Wednesday that deliberations were going on and expected an announcement on Thursday.

However, he added: “We will believe it when we see it.”

Thousands of Gordhan supporters are expected to march to the Pretoria Regional Court, where the case is set to be heard, on Wednesday as part of Save SA, a civil society campaign calling for President Jacob Zuma’s resignation and backing the beleaguered minister.

The senior NPA source, who has seen the draft letters, told City Press that Abrahams first wanted to inform Gordhan, Magashula and Pillay’s lawyers of his decision before he could make a public announcement.

However, another reason for Abrahams’ impending decision to drop the charges – which is not included in the letters – was the alleged kidnapping and assault of Sars legal services official Vlok Symington, who prosecutors had hoped would testify in the case.

City Press understands that Symington has been removed from the witness list, which prosecutors believe will hurt their case.

Symington provided a legal opinion on Pillay’s early retirement in March 2009.

“The developments that took place at Sars played a role in his [Abrahams’] decision,” said the senior NPA official yesterday, referring to the events of October 18, when a copy of an email Symington received in error – which revealed Sars’ own lawyer disagreed with the case against Gordhan – was allegedly forced out of his hands in a scuffle (see page 2).

Malatji declined to comment yesterday.

NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku yesterday denied that a decision to decline to prosecute Gordhan and the others had been reached.

“We categorically deny your assertions. The NDPP is currently considering the matter and has not made a decision,” he said, adding: “The NDPP will make an announcement very soon.”

ALL SYSTEMS GO FOR SAVE SA MARCH

However, regardless of whether charges are dropped against Gordhan, Magashula and Pillay, a mass march against state capture by civil society groups and political parties will still go ahead as a show of force in defence of state institutions.

Lawson Naidoo, a member of the steering committee of the Save SA campaign, told City Press:

“A withdrawal [of charges] will be a victory and vindication of what we have been saying.

"This is not about the charges against the minister, but about state capture and the misuse of institutions such as the NPA, Hawks, Sars and so on.

“There is an acknowledgement that this is something that we need to fight collaboratively.”

Employer organisations on Friday called on their business affiliates to join the march. The National Employers’ Association of SA invited employees of its business partners to join to beef up support.

Gerhard Papenfus, the association’s head, said: “We have not received any request from the employees. If they want to go, they can go and join the march ... We as officials support the march.”

Commenting on ANC members’ concerns that the demonstrations were aimed at “regime change”, Naidoo said he saw nothing wrong with that.

“It is a highly contested phrase, but if the governing party is not governing in terms of the social contract of the Constitution, then the regime must be changed.

[It is] regime change in terms of the Constitution – not by force, but using the very social contract we have agreed upon.”

POLICE OUT IN FORCE FOR MARCH

Acting police commissioner Khomotso Phahlane told City Press that police were ready for the marchers and had activated the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (Natjoints) – a joint command structure consisting of the justice, crime prevention and security clusters – to assist with an “intelligence-led” plan.

He said that, in addition to the departments of state security, justice and defence, police crime intelligence and the NPA were involved in the plan.

“There will be enough deployments of police officers to deal with any situation,” he said.

The Natjoints structure is commonly used in extraordinary events, where a large threat is anticipated by intelligence operatives from police and state security.

The structure is currently busy with student protests, and was previously in use in the run-up to the municipal elections.

FULL BENCH TO HEAR ZUMA’S STATE CAPTURE INTERDICT CASE

On Wednesday, when Gordhan is scheduled to appear in the regional court, Zuma’s lawyers will be arguing his application to interdict former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s state capture report in the Pretoria High Court.

The case had been set down for Tuesday only, but was extended for a full two days to be heard by a full Bench of three North Gauteng High Court judges, according to a letter sent to Zuma’s office on Friday by the office of North Gauteng deputy judge president Aubrey Ledwaba.

Ordinarily, a full Bench is reserved for complex and important legal matters.

The highly anticipated state capture report was set to be released on Madonsela’s last day in office, but Zuma applied for an interdict.

This week, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, who gave evidence to Madonsela, applied to intervene in the matter.

In response, the president’s lawyers said they needed time to study her affidavit and respond, in effect calling for yet another postponement.

Opposition parties involved in the matter all opposed the postponement.

In a strongly worded letter on Friday, Ledwaba said the president’s lawyers had not yet filed their heads of argument and that the court files had not been properly indexed.

Zuma’s lawyers complied with the court’s instructions yesterday.

ZUMA’S SUPPORTERS SHARPENING SWORDS

Meanwhile, Zuma’s ANC allies are gearing up for a big fight at what is expected to be an explosive ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting in November.

They are ready to use their majority status to quash any attempts at forcing the leadership – including Zuma – to step down.

Zuma’s staunch ally, ANC NEC member and Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe, was adamant that those who supported a mass resignation of NEC members – mooted by ANC chief whip in Parliament Jackson Mthembu last week – had “already lost the day”.

“Jackson has lost the day by going out publicly,” he said on Friday.

Maphatsoe and ANC Youth League president Collen Maine called for Mthembu to be stripped of his position over his “ill-discipline”, further fuelling the open warfare within the party which has escalated since the decision to prosecute Gordhan was announced.

This week, the SA Communist Party (SACP) called for Parliament to institute a swift inquiry into Abrahams’ fitness to hold office, saying his “amateurish” behaviour showed state institutions were being used to target leaders and isolate them for standing in the way of private interests.

The SACP also called for the NPA Act to be reviewed regarding the appointment of the NDPP, wanting the public and Parliament to have a greater say in that decision.

Maphatsoe said that, while no one could stop ANC members from supporting Gordhan in court, “the danger is that the Economic Freedom Fighters and the DA are doing cheap political campaigning by using our own comrade”.

Maphatsoe said Wednesday’s planned march had turned into anti-Zuma gatherings, but just like the last #ZumaMustFall march – organised after the Constitutional Court found that the president had acted in a manner “inconsistent” with the Constitution in the Nkandla matter – this one would also fail.

“The ANC won elections, so they [marchers] must wait for 2019. It is the ANC branches which can say they do not want Zuma.

"No other person or even these stalwarts making noise can remove him, because they are not a structure,” he said.

This week, 101 ANC stalwarts came out in support of Gordhan and expressed concern about the state of the country. They joined ANC voices such as that of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The stalwarts – including former finance minister Trevor Manuel, Pallo Jordan and Albertina Luthuli – signed an open letter to Zuma and the ANC executive, calling for introspection and for the ANC to return to its Freedom Charter roots.

They stated in the letter:

“We strongly believe the charges are without foundation and clearly show a misuse of state agencies‚ when the NPA and other agencies should be focusing on cases of corruption and the misuse of public funds.”

Read more on:    npa  |  sars  |  shaun abrahams  |  pravin gordhan

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