South Africa President Zuma Says He Can’t Stop Gordhan Probe

  • Zuma expresses ‘full confidence’ in finance minister
  • Zuma’s statement an attempt to reassure markets: Mathekga

South African President Jacob Zuma said that while he has “full confidence” in his finance minister, he has no power to stop a police probe into allegations that Pravin Gordhan established an illicit investigative unit during his tenure as head of the national tax agency.

Pravin Gordhan
Pravin Gordhan
Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

The presidency issued the statement after Gordhan refused a request by a special police investigative unit known as the Hawks to appear at its offices on Thursday for questioning, saying he had done nothing wrong. The Sunday Times newspaper reported in May that Gordhan may face dismissal and arrest on espionage charges for setting up the so-called National Research Group within the tax agency to spy on politicians including Zuma.

Zuma’s comments are “clearly an attempt to assure the financial markets,” Ralph Mathekga, a political analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute of Strategic Reflection Johannesburg-based research organization, said by phone. “The biggest question is whether the Hawks will carry on running amok after Zuma’s statement.”

The rand fell to its weakest level in a month on Thursday after earlier gaining of as much as 1.4 percent after Zuma’s statement. It slipped 0.5 percent to 14.2370 per dollar at 6:10 p.m. in Johannesburg.

Fractious Relationship

Gordhan, 67, was named finance minister in December after Zuma roiled markets by firing Nhlanhla Nene from the position and replacing him with a little-known lawmaker. His relationship with Zuma has been a fractious one, with the president denying his requests to fire the nation’s tax chief for insubordination and appoint a new board at the state-owned airline.

“President Jacob Zuma wishes to express his full support and confidence in the minister of finance and emphasizes the fact that the Minister has not been found guilty of any wrongdoing,” the Presidency said in a statement. “The negative effect of these matters on our economy, personal pressure on the individuals affected as well as the heads of institutions, however disturbing, cannot be cause for the president to intervene unconstitutionally.”

The National Prosecuting Authority hasn’t received a docket from the police and there was no indication when they would receive one, Luvuyo Mfaki, a spokesman for the national prosecutor, said by phone. City Press reported that the docket would be handed to the NPA on Friday after the police questioned tax agency officials including Ivan Pillay, the former deputy commissioner, and Oupa Magashula, the ex-commissioner.

“The president did need to say something because silence is conspicuous,” Abdul Waheed Patel, managing director of Ethicore Political Consulting, said by phone from Cape Town. “I don’t think his comments makes the issue go away. What is needed is an emphatic statement from the Hawks as to whether they will pursue the matter. More is needed if people are going to be assured that the finance minister is going to be left alone.”

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