A delegation of church and civil society leaders are expected to head to the headquarters of the specialised Directorate Priority Crime Investigation, better known as the Hawks, on Thursday after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was served with a summons to sign a warning statement.
The letter the Hawks sent reveals Gordhan is facing three criminal charges, including allegations that he set up an investigation unit within the SA Revenue Service (Sars) that gathered, collected and evaluated intelligence in an improper way.
Gordhan, who said on Wednesday that he would ignore the Hawks summon, has already provided them with a full explanation to the charges and denied any and all wrongdoing. Two former Sars officials, Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg, have also been summoned by the Hawks.
The standoff has seen the rand weaken significantly and raised fears of a backlash from ratings agencies.
“This is a civil society observer delegation to express disquiet about the attack on the minister of finance, Sars and other independent institutions of state. Their presence will coincide with the time when the first member of Sars has been asked to present himself to the Hawks,” public interest law centre Section27’s Mark Heywood said on Wednesday.
“This is a critical moment in our nation’s future. There have been extensive discussions today with many different groups on how to respond. Feel free to join tomorrow and exercise your right to participate in and protect our democracy.”
Expected to attend “to offer their support” are retired Constitutional Court Judge Johann Kriegler, Advocate George Bizos, and director of the Helen Suzman Foundation Francis Antonie.
Gordhan, Pillay and Van Loggerenberg were instructed on Monday to report to the Hawks on Thursday for warning statements – a step that could precede arrest – on allegations of contravention of two intelligence laws, and in Pillay’s case, of the Public Finance Management Act.
Gordhan on Wednesday said he would not heed a summons and asked to be given space to do his job as investigators from the unit again targeted him and former revenue service colleagues in a move that hammered the rand.
However, Pillay, the former Sars deputy commissioner and former Sars group executive Van Loggerenberg, were to report to the Hawks at 9am on Thursday morning with their legal teams.
Meanwhile, the Economic Freedom Fighters on Wednesday urged Gordhan to cooperate with the investigation process.
“The EFF notes the unrelenting pursuit of criminalising the minister of finance by factions of the ANC who are seemingly gunning for Treasury under the instruction of the Gupta family,” said EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi in a statement.
“To refuse to present himself to the Hawks will be to act with the same disrespect shown by [President Jacob] Zuma and his faction to institutions of the state.
No one, even if they be finance minister or president, is above institutions of the state. We call on Pravin Gordhan to rethink his position and present himself to the Hawks
“If he is innocent, which we believe he is, there is nothing the Hawks can do. The last thing we need is anyone being treated as if they are above the law,” said Ndlozi.
He said the institutions of the state should be respected and be upheld above “individuals who may be at their helm”.
On Wednesday, Gordhan in a statement issued by National Treasury said he had been advised by his lawyers that allegations made against him by the Hawks in a letter sent to him on Monday were “wholly unfounded on any version of events”.
The finance minister said he would not be available to meet the Hawks at 2pm on Thursday as requested.
“These alleged contraventions are dealt with in detail in my attorneys’ attached letter. Suffice it to say they advise that the alleged charges are wholly unfounded. I therefore, do not intend to present myself for a warning statement for many considerations, both legal and given my other commitments.”
Gordhan, however, said he would be prepared to assist a “bona fide” investigation by the Hawks to the best of his ability.
I have a job to do in a difficult economic environment and serve South Africa as best I can. Let me do my job
The allegations put to Pillay by the Hawks include that he had colluded with Oupa Magashule, who succeeded Gordhan as the head of the revenue service, to let the state bankroll his early retirement at 56 and thereafter irregularly secure a five-year contract as a consultant. The law only allows that for a three-year contract, according to documents seen by the African News Agency.
The letter sent to Pillay on Monday claims that he signed an agreement to serve in an acting capacity while knowing that the minister had granted approval only for a three-year term.
The allegations against Gordhan and his ex-colleagues have returned with renewed intensity since his re-appointed to the finance portfolio late last year after President Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene and briefly replaced him with Des van Rooyen, triggering a financial market crisis.
After it emerged that the Hawks sent Gordhan a list of question relating to the intelligence unit within Sars days before he presented his first national budget back in his old job in February, African National Congress secretary-general Gwede Mantashe warned of a plot to undermine the minister. The presidency said the claim was unfounded.
Gordhan, who said he has responded to the questions, now insists he has no obligation to meet the Hawks, who are not saying what they will do next.
– African News Agency (ANA)