Ramaphosa and protector in standoff
Dispute between president and public protector over funding evidence due to come to a head
A standoff has developed between lawyers for President Cyril Ramaphosa and public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane over the evidence she used to make her politically explosive findings about Ramaphosa’s ANC election campaign funding — and whether or not it should be made publicly available.
A standoff has developed between lawyers for President Cyril Ramaphosa and public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane over the evidence she used to make her politically explosive findings about Ramaphosa’s ANC election campaign funding
— and whether or not it should be made publicly available.
While Ramaphosa has publicly stated that he did not want to comment on Mkhwebane’s motives in investigating who funded his campaign, accusations by his legal team that the public protector may have used unlawfully obtained evidence to make far-reaching findings of alleged money-laundering and potential conflict of interest against him have upped the ante in the president’s legal battle with the Chapter 9 institution.
Her investigation found that Ramaphosa had misled parliament about a R500,000 donation to his campaign from controversial company Bosasa.
On Monday, Ramaphosa secured an interdict staying the implementation of the public protector’s remedial action against him.
The dispute over whether her evidence will be made public any time soon will come to a head on Thursday morning, when deputy judge president Aubrey Ledwaba is scheduled to meet lawyers for both parties.
Ledwaba on Wednesday issued a directive that the record be kept in his office pending the resolution of this latest impasse. That means that, while there is no court order prohibiting public access to Mkhwebane’s evidence around Ramaphosa’s ANC campaign funding, it has effectively been sealed.
Ramaphosa’s lawyers on Friday wrote to Ledwaba to ask that parts of the Rule 53 record filed by Mkhwebane, in which she provided evidence she used to make her findings against Ramaphosa, not be made public, pending a determination of how they were obtained.
On Wednesday, Mkhwebane’s lawyers sent a terse response to Ramaphosa’s legal team, in which they made it clear that she disagreed with efforts by his team to ensure that evidence she used against him in her report on his ANC election campaign be sealed.
“You will note that the only basis of your request is that you ‘have reason to believe that certain documents may not have been lawfully obtained by the public protector’,” Mkhwebane’s lawyer Theo Seanego wrote to Ramaphosa’s attorney Peter Harris.
“We regard this as a very serious allegation against the public protector. Yet it is made without any reference to evidence whatsoever.
“Further, this accusation has been repeated in public statements issued by the presidency. It is entirely unfounded and without merit,” he wrote.
While Ramaphosa’s lawyers have asked Ledwaba to ensure that the bank statements of accounts linked to his election campaign be sealed “as these documents contain confidential information belonging to third parties” (Ramaphosa’s funders), Seanego says this letter “does not constitute an application, nor does it state why your client (Ramaphosa) deems it appropriate to represent third parties who have not indicated any opposition to the dispatching of the record”.
Seanego argues that while Ramaphosa “has consistently contended that he ‘was kept in the dark’ about the identities of the donors and the details thereof, it is therefore puzzling that he seeks to act on their behalf, and without any factual or legal basis whatsoever”.
The presidency declined to comment on Seanego’s letter or respond to questions about whether Ramaphosa’s lawyers could prove that the public protector had obtained the evidence unlawfully.
Ramaphosa maintains that Mkhwebane had no legal basis to investigate his campaign funding, and argues that her money-laundering findings are legally and factually ill-conceived and baseless.
He insists there is no legal obligation on him to disclose who funded his campaign.
But, while Ramaphosa fights Mkhwebane’s order that he be forced to disclose the identities of his funders to parliament, leaks of campaign bank statements and e-mails have meant that the identities of these funders are already public knowledge. The presidency has strongly suggested that it believes Mkhwebane’s office may be behind these leaks, but, at this stage, neither Ramaphosa nor his lawyers know exactly what evidence she actually has, or even whether it is the same evidence that was given to media outlets.
Battle continues: Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has been accused by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s lawyers of possibly having unlawfully obtained evidence.