The Hawks are confident that they have a strong case against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and other former SA Revenue Service (Sars) employees – and, despite yesterday’s denials, are pressing on with their investigation.
Gordhan will not receive any help in his legal battles from President Jacob Zuma, who is said to believe that Gordhan should cooperate with investigators.
A senior government official close to Zuma told City Press on Friday that the president cannot be expected to intervene in police and legal processes affecting Gordhan as that would amount to defeating the ends of justice.
A senior Hawks official told City Press yesterday that Zuma was briefed by Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and Hawks head Major General Mthandazo Ntlemeza on the progress of the case against Gordhan and other former Sars officials at a meeting last month.
Zuma was taken through the details of the case, which are outlined in a secret “information note” dated January 20, a copy of which City Press has obtained, and which was delivered to State Security Minister David Mahlobo. The president had not responded to questions at the time of going to press.
The note reveals that “the docket is ready to be submitted to the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions for further guidance”.
The government official told City Press on Friday: “Pravin wants to be above the law and that is difficult for the president.
“The president does not have powers to instruct law enforcement agencies what to do or to tell them to stop an investigation,” the source said.
On Friday, Gordhan said it was unheard of in 20 years of democracy for one part of state to tackle a serving minister.
Gordhan confirmed that he received a letter from the Hawks on Friday last week, but that “in the interest of” the country, the economy and not destabilising Budget 2016, which he delivered in Parliament on Wednesday, he “thought it necessary to keep quiet” about it until after his speech.
The official said Gordhan was the minister who worked closest with the president and it was strange that there were insinuations that Zuma was out to get him.
“The president meets with him more than any other minister. Even in the president’s state of the nation address, there were lines that came straight from Gordhan. Relations between them are the best that they have ever been. They are quite open with each other,” the official said.
In a letter sent to Gordhan last Friday by Brigadier Nyameka Xaba, the head of the Hawks’ crimes against the state unit, which is investigating the case, Xaba gave Gordhan until Wednesday to “hand-deliver” his responses to his office.
“Kindly be advised that I deemed it fit to forward you the set of questions to allow reasonable time to consult with your legal representatives,” Xaba wrote.
“It is imperative that this matter be afforded the necessary confidentiality that it deserves ... Extra care should be given to avoid media leakage and interference with state witnesses.”
The information note, labelled “secret”, details Gordhan’s alleged involvement with the formation of the so-called rogue unit at Sars at the time he was commissioner.
The Hawks’ investigation into the unit began after Sars commissioner Tom Moyane laid a criminal complaint at the Brooklyn Police Station in Pretoria in May last year.
In the document, the Hawks allege that Gordhan and former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay were instrumental in the creation of the unit.
The case against Gordhan relates primarily to his approval of the unit’s formation, as well as its operations, his extension of Pillay’s contract and Pillay’s early retirement settlement.
The document states that Gordhan approved the formation of the unit in February 2007, and the application was approved by then finance minister Trevor Manuel, despite misgivings expressed by then deputy finance minister Jabu Moleketi.
Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who was briefed on Treasury affairs last week, said yesterday: “The struggle over the use of public money we are seeing in government should not be seen simply as a factional battle within the ruling alliance.
“Our country faces a critical moral turning point: do we want a society in which the economy grows for all, creating jobs for millions of our people and spreading wealth? Or do we want a society in which a small number of politically connected families appropriate public resources for their own benefit and avoid paying tax on their earnings?”
Weeks ahead of Nene’s shock axing, friends of Zuma, whose names are known to City Press, reached out to two politicians, saying the “old man” wanted to make them finance minister.
This account was confirmed to City Press by four sources, and has informed the belief that Treasury faces a “coup”.
National Treasury is contested terrain because of its powerful Constitutional set-up. It is the only department that has an entire chapter in the Constitution dedicated to its work.
All money paid to the government goes through the national revenue fund controlled by Treasury; all money bills are similarly run. Treasury can also stop the transfer of funds to an organ of state.
The report states that Moleketi wrote on the application: “Supported, however, this is strange way of executing what I consider to be an economic mandate of NIA [the National Intelligence Agency]. It seems as though it is an add-on rather than part of NIA’s mandate.”
The Hawks document continues: “Notwithstanding the comments by the deputy minister, the minister of finance, Mr Trevor Manuel, approved the request for funds to cater for intelligence capability within NIA in support of Sars.”
The document further deals with Project Sunday Evenings, an operation driven by the Sars unit in which the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) headquarters in Silverton, Pretoria, was allegedly bugged with equipment bought in 2007 by former Scorpions Gauteng head Advocate Gerrie Nel, who is now a senior state prosecutor, and chief investigator Andrew Leask.
They allegedly obtained the R1.15 million for the equipment from the NPA’s C-fund.
“An investigation is being undertaken against Adv Gerrie Nel and Andrew Leask and others on possible contravention of the Public Finance Management Act,” the report states.
“The investigation on how the C-fund was governed and managed is ongoing.”
The information obtained by the bugging devices was, the report says, passed on to “President Thabo Mbeki, Minister Trevor Manuel, Commissioner Pravin Gordhan, Mr Ivan Pillay ... who were aware of the bugging”.
Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said: “It is a pity that there are certain sections of the public that are creating political conspiracies on this matter.
“When has sending questions become either a conspiracy or a criminal act?
“We are very resolute in maintaining our mandate of investigating without fear or favour. Our country needs to come to the realisation that, as the Hawks, we will not ask for permission from anyone to do our job.
“Our vocation is very challenging and surely will ruffle feathers.
“Lastly, we want to reject the accusations that we leaked the information to the media. We are a professional organisation and keep all our investigations out of the clutches of the media,” he said.