National Prosecuting Authority boss Shaun Abrahams on Tuesday stressed that “the days of disrespecting the decisions of the NPA are over”, after announcing that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan would be charged with fraud.
He was responding to questions from journalists about the timing of the decision to summons the trusted finance minister and two former South Aftican Revenue Service officials.
Abrahams repeatedly denied that the NPA was being politically influenced, and he lashed out at criticism that it was not independent.
“What if this decision was made by a judge, what if this decision was made by the public protector, would your reaction have been the same? The days of disrespecting decisions of the National Prosecuting Authority are over,” he said vehemently.
“The days of non-accountability and not holding senior government officials accountable are over,” Abrahams said.
Gordhan, who headed Sars before becoming finance minister in 2009, and former colleagues Oupa Magashula and Ivan Pillay, have been ordered to appear in the Pretoria Regional Court on November 2.
The charges relate to Pillay’s employment contract.
Abrahams said Magashula, Gordhan and Pillay will be arraigned for fraud involving R1 141 178 related to the pension paid out to Pillay, which the NPA alleges he was not entitled.
Magasula will face a charge in relation to the contravention of the Finance Management Act as he allegedly allowed Sars to “incur unauthorised and wasteful expenditure” in granting Pillay the package.
Pillay and Magashula will face a further charge of fraud. This is in relation to the employment contract of five years given to Pillay after he had retired on grounds of ill health.
Pillay and Gordhan will face a further charge in relation to the extension of the employment contract.
Abrahams said the three accused were informed of the charges on Tuesday.
The Hawks has also been investigating Gordhan over the so-called “rogue spy unit” at the tax agency, set up when he was at its helm. Abrahams said the probe on the unit was continuing.
Gordhan was first asked questions by the Hawks about the Sars unit in February, an investigation analysts say was the result of political pressure from a faction allied to President Jacob Zuma. The president has denied the claims.
Gordhan, who also served as finance minister from 2009 to 2014, is widely seen as being engaged in a fierce battle within the ANC over control of the Treasury.
Gordhan, a respected technocrat, has often clashed with Zuma and senior ministers over alleged excessive spending, particularly at cash-bleeding state-run entities such as South African Airways.
Meanwhile, the ANC asked Gordhan, Pillay and Magashula to co-operate and not to make media statements.
ANC national spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said: “This investigation and related, untested and mischievous ‘conspiracy theories’ has had a detrimental effect on the South African economy and we trust that today’s announcement will move us a step closer to uncovering the truth from facts and bring this matter to finality”.
Kodwa said the ANC welcomes remarks by Abrahams, rejecting claims of political interference in the prosecutorial process.
“The ANC urges all parties as well as external stakeholders to allow the law to take its course,” said Kodwa.
“The ANC further urges Comrade Pravin Gordhan and others to fully cooperate with the NPA in order to bring this matter to finality as soon as possible. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty remains a sacrosanct principle of our law and the ANC has full confidence in our judiciary to act as final arbiters in these matters.
“The ANC calls on interested parties to desist against public commentary, which would undermine due process or create further confusion.”
The rand tumbled after the announcement that Pravin would be charged and lost as much as 3% against the US dollar.
Additional reporting, Sydney Morweng-news editor.