Gordhan throws down legal challenge to NPA
Threat to have High Court assess validity of ‘frivolous’ charges
BACK off, explain yourself and show us the evidence or face a court review of the decision to prosecute Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.
That was the challenge thrown down to National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams after the minister yesterday rejected his offer of an opportunity to make representations as to why the prosecution should not continue.
Not only is Gordhan taking advice from a high-powered team including Wim Trengove, Hamilton Maenetje and Ziyaad Navsa on how to “bring the matter to an expedited finality”, but former Constitutional Court Judge Johann Kriegler, on behalf of Freedom Under Law, and the Helen Suzman Foundation, have threatened to ask the High Court to examine the validity and viability of the charges “with a view to cutting short the prosecution”.
Amid widespread public outrage over the prosecution of Gordhan and its impact on the economy, including the voices of ANC and government heavyweights, Abrahams appeared to be backtracking when he suggested at a meeting of the portfolio committee on justice this week that Gordhan could approach him to review the decision to prosecute.
But the minister gave a scathing response via his lawyers, saying he had no confidence in Abrahams’s “ability or willingness to afford him a fair hearing”.
His lawyers had previously asked repeatedly for an opportunity to make representations to the NPA, but “they spurned our requests”, Tebogo Malatji said on behalf of the minister’s legal team.
Abrahams had also made his commitment to the prosecution clear.
Kriegler said Freedom Under Law and the Helen Suzman Foundation had had the charges analysed and “were pleased but not surprised to be advised that they are on the face of it legally flawed and factually unfounded”.
In a letter addressed to Abrahams on behalf of the NGOs, law firm Webber Wentzel picks apart the allegations, showing it was within the rules of the Government Employees’ Pension Fund and relevant legislation for him to approve deputy SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay’s early retirment, to rehire him on contract and for Sars to pay the early retirement penalty on his behalf.
This decision is the basis of the fraud charge against Gordhan and the alternative charge of theft for which he is due to appear in court on November 2.
“The charges, such as they are, are unsustainable in law and fact and may be actuated by conscious recklessness or ulterior purposes,” the letter states.
Cabinet ministers Ebrahim Patel and Derek Hanekom have also supported their colleague, while Robben Island veteran Ahmed Kathrada, former president Kgalema Motlanthe, former cabinet minister Barbara Hogan and other high-profile figures have said they will be at court on November 2.
Meanwhile, Gordhan was defiant yesterday as he told international business leaders gathered in Cape Town he was “here to stay”.
Speaking from Pretoria, he called the fraud charges “frivolous” and joked that his “spine is still very straight”.
“As far as the persecution and political mischief that I have been subjected to, it is immense political noise. These are contesting forces as you would have in any political party. It is up to the public to judge who wants social justice more than anyone else,” he declared.
On his relationship with the ANC, Gordhan said this remained solid: “I’m an ANC-associated person for 45 years. We are not about to give up on the core values of the ANC.”
He said he would allow the legal process to unfold.
“Every credible legal expert in South Africa has commented. It’s important to know that these charges do not constitute fraud. These are frivolous charges,” he said, adding that “as activists, we do not sit down quietly when an injustice is done”.
On the economy, he promised to convince the ratings agencies South Africa was still a working democracy with a bright future.
He was preparing for midterm budget statement later this month.
“I have every intention of delivering that budget statement,” he said. email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in his office in Pretoria, after speaking via video link to a Thomson Reuters investment conference in Cape Town yesterday.
Advocate Dali Mpofu, representing the UDM and Cope, walks with advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, representing the EFF, to the Pretoria High Court.