The manoeuvre by the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority to arrest Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was exposed by one of the Gupta brothers in a business meeting over a week ago, Daily Maverick has learnt. The arrest of Gordhan, together with former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and the former SARS acting commissioner Ivan Pillay, is allegedly being plotted to enable another takeover of the National Treasury. But as part of the fightback by former high-ranking government officials, information has emerged that could implicate President Jacob Zuma in the development of intelligence capability at SARS. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
If Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and others, including former minister Trevor Manuel, are arrested, President Jacob Zuma might inadvertently be drawn into the case. Daily Maverick has established that Zuma, then deputy president, was at a training course for senior intelligence heads at the intelligence academy in Mahikeng in 2001 where the restructuring of the state intelligence services and co-operation between the agencies were discussed. Representatives of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Ivan Pillay and Gene Ravele (both have since left the tax authority), were at the meeting that Zuma addressed. Former SARS strategic planning risk group executive Peter Richer, who resigned at the same time as Pillay, was one of the facilitators on the course.
Manuel’s deputy in the finance ministry at the time, Mandisi Mpahlwa, was assigned to assist Zuma to improve co-ordination among the intelligence structures. This included military intelligence, police crime intelligence, the then National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the former South African Secret Service, the National Communications Centre and the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee. At this early stage, SARS was seen to be an integral part of the intelligence machinery that required collaboration to crack down on organised crime. This later paved the way for the signing of an MOU to facilitate intelligence co-operation between NIA and SARS, and fund intelligence capability within the tax authority. The “rogue spy unit”, as it came to be known, was born out of this co-operation.
Officials who were at the 2001 meeting say if arrests were to be made about the intelligence capability developed at SARS, it would mean Zuma would have to be a co-accused for being one of the initiators of the idea. Alternatively the president would have to be a witness for the defence about why he encouraged intelligence co-operation between the various agencies in the state, including SARS. It is believed that neither the Hawks nor the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) are aware of Zuma’s involvement, or the repercussions for the head of state should they go ahead with the arrests of Gordhan and others.
Zuma was the former head of ANC intelligence in the underground, and this has always been his area of special interest. During the exile years, he worked with many of the officials who were at the Mahikeng meeting, including Pillay. Under Zuma’s presidency, the intelligence agencies were collapsed into the Department of State Security, to give effect to his plan for co-ordinated intelligence within the state.
The information about Zuma’s role in the long-running saga emerged as rumours intensified in the last week about the Hawks’ plans to make high-profile arrests. It appears that the politically connected Gupta family had special insight into the Hawks investigation and possible changes to the Cabinet as a result of the imminent arrests.
Members of the Gupta family were back in South Africa last week to deal with their troubled business empire, following the decisions by South Africa’s four big banks to close their accounts. At a meeting in Johannesburg on 6 May, Ajay Gupta allegedly informed people dealing with his family’s companies that the Hawks would soon be making a number of arrests in connection with the SARS spy unit. He said those who would be arrested included Gordhan, Manuel and Pillay.
Daily Maverick understands Gupta claimed President Jacob Zuma would have to remove Gordhan as Finance Minister – it is apparently untenable and bad for the country’s image to have a finance minister facing charges, but not a president – and Eskom chief executive officer Brian Molefe would be appointed to the portfolio. Member of Parliament Sfiso Buthelezi, who resigned his business interests two months ago to join the ANC caucus, would then become Molefe’s deputy. Buthelezi’s appointment as Deputy Finance Minister was meant to take place in March but this was scuppered when the incumbent Mcebisi Jonas confirmed publicly that the Guptas offered to promote him to replace Nhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister.
The appointment of Molefe and Buthelezi would apparently relieve the pressure on the Gupta companies and allow them to transact again in the country. The move to have Gordhan removed appears to be another attempt by the Gupta family to make changes to the Cabinet to benefit their business empire. Attempts to get comment from spokespersons for the Gupta family about the claims allegedly made by Ajay Gupta were unsuccessful.
The Sunday Times reported this week that the Hawks want to prosecute Gordhan for espionage for activities of the SARS “rogue unit” when he was the tax agency’s commissioner. The paper said that according to their sources in the Hawks, a case docket had been handed to the NPA for a decision to prosecute. NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku told the paper: “The case is prosecutor-driven as the Hawks approached the NPA for guidance”. He denied a decision had been taken to prosecute.
The status of the Hawks investigation into the SARS unit, which they claim had operated illegally, has been unclear after Gordhan responded at the end of March to the 27 questions they sent to him on the eve of the budget speech. It is also not clear which laws Gordhan or anyone else broke that might lead to their arrest. The Sunday Times named a number of former SARS and NPA officials who might face arrest in connection with the case.
The presidency issued two statements on Sunday in reaction to the Sunday Times report. In the first statement, the presidency said it condemned the actions of “information peddlers who keep spreading rumours about alleged changes in the Cabinet”.
The statement said it was only the president who had the prerogative to hire and fire ministers at any time. “Despite that, the Presidency issued a statement recently communicating that there were no plans to change the Minister of Finance. Information peddlers have also been spreading false rumours about changes in the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). A statement was also issued recently rebutting the DTI rumours.”
The statement said the president and government were “focused on the goal of uniting business, labour, government and the whole country behind the mission of strengthening the economy and reigniting growth during the current difficult economic climate”.
The second presidency statement “noted” the Sunday Times report that Gordhan faced imminent arrest. “We have also noted the response of law enforcement agencies which have swiftly denied the rumour. It is clear therefore that the story is the work of dangerous information peddlers who wish to cause confusion and mayhem in the country,” the presidency spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said.
“President Zuma and the whole of government are focused on the goal of reigniting economic growth, preserving existing jobs and creating more jobs through working together with business and labour. A lot of progress is being made in this regard as was seen in the outcomes of the meeting convened by President Zuma last week,” the statement read.
It is not known whether the statements meant that Zuma was unaware that the Hawks were intending to make arrests. It is also unclear how the Guptas received insight into the case and were able to speculate about changes to the Cabinet.
Zuma appeared to deflect the political heat from the Guptas when he addressed the Gauteng ANC provincial general council (PGC) on Friday night. Zuma told the meeting that there was no such thing as state capture and people just used the term in soundbites for the media.
“If you talk about state capture, you’re misleading people. You’re taking a small issue and making it a big issue. Is the judiciary captured? Is the legislature captured? Politicians love it – state capture, state capture, what is the state?” Zuma asked in a mocking tone.
This is contrary to discussions at the last ANC national executive committee (NEC) in March, ironically at the very same venue where the Gauteng PGC took place, about “the serious allegations surrounding the Gupta family and its purported influence in the appointment of ministers, their deputies and other positions in key state owned entities in their interests”.
As a result of these discussions, the NEC mandated the party’s top six officials and national working committee “to gather all pertinent information about the allegations to enable the ANC to take appropriate action on this matter”. The NEC also called on all ANC members who had information to bring this to the office of secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s office.
The term “state capture” was introduced into the lexicon by the South African Communist Party and is now used repeatedly by ANC leaders including Mantashe and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
As part of the rearguard action against the Gupta family’s capture of the state, a group of former top civil servants have called for a public inquiry into the family’s involvement in state affairs. The group, which includes 27 former directors-general, wrote to Gordhan and Public Service and Administration Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi requesting investigation into “all senior political and administrative officials who may, in their dealings with the Guptas and associated companies, have contravened the Constitution, the PFMA (Public Finance Management Act) and the Public Service Act”.
“As former DGs we are concerned about reports that public officials, including heads of state-owned entities, are being pressurised by private interests to wilfully break procurement rules and the rules pertaining to transparent, fair and competency-based appointments. In particular, we express concern at recent revelations of alleged ‘state capture’ by the Gupta family, their apparent influence over political and administrative appointments, and their alleged involvement in the irregular facilitation, securing and issuing of government tenders and contracts,” the officials said.
Zuma appears to have underestimated the enormity of the movement developing against him, including officials and comrades who used to work with him. He appears to be overly confident that as president, he would command unfailing loyalty from people who served in the ANC and the state. But this could be a major mistake on his part and those of his allies.
With Zuma already facing a legal headache over the spy tapes case, the last thing he would need is to be drawn into the SARS spy unit matter. And with the public protector already probing the Guptas, another public inquiry could lead to the unearthing of evidence about his own knowledge and role in state capture.
It appears that more and more people are willing to speak out about Zuma, his friends and their activities. For anyone with dark and deeply buried secrets, this spells trouble. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan speaks to President Jacob Zuma (R) during closing remarks during the 5th BRICS Summit in Durban, March 27, 2013. REUTERS/Rogan Ward.
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