Cape Town – The Sunday Times has issued a front-page apology to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan for failing to give him the right to reply to a story that implicated him in a so-called SA Revenue Service (Sars) "rogue unit".
The apology followed a recent finding by Press Ombudsman Johan Retief that the story had breached the press code with its "inaccurate, misleading and unfair" content.
The newspaper referenced a draft report by auditing firm KPMG in a front-page story published in October, headlined: "Call to probe Pravin Gordhan over Sars spy saga – KPMG report confirms our story piles pressure on ex-finance minister".
It also carried an editorial headlined: "Keep shady doings in Sars out in the open."
Gordan, a former Sars commissioner, along with former senior officials Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg – who were also implicated in the Sunday Times' series of articles on the "rogue unit" – laid a complaint with the ombudsman over various aspects of the reportage earlier this month.
The reports detailed allegations that Sars was running an apparent illegal unit, which was accused of running a brothel and spying on President Jacob Zuma, among other things.
In a statement on his findings, Retief said it had been ascertained that the report in question was actually only a draft version – a fact not stated in the story. At the time that the story was published, the final report had not yet been released.
Retief said the newspaper breached the press code by not giving Gordhan enough time to respond to questions about the findings of the report.
The newspaper acknowledged in its apology that it had also failed to ask Gordhan to respond to comments by former Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula.
"We accept we were in breach of the code in this regard, and apologise to Gordhan for failing to seek his comment ahead of publication."
It added: "Gordhan has since pointed out that neither KPMG nor any other panel that has investigated the unit in question ever interviewed him, and he had not seen the KPMG report. He also objected to any suggestion or insinuation that he knew of any illegal activity on the part of the national research unit."
The newspaper said Retief made several other findings which it intended to appeal.The Ombudsman's ruling ordered the Sunday Times to retract all stories about its Sars "rogue unit saga" and to publicly apologise, in writing, to the three men they had implicated.
Notably, the apology on Sunday was not directed at Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg.
It also did not publish a full apology on page two for various allegations made in the texts as directed.
The only apology that could be found on the second page was for using the wrong photo to accompany the obituary of late British diplomat Sir John Leahy. It regretted the error of using a photo of Airbus CEO of customers, John Leahy, who was "very much alive".