Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj's criminal charges against the M&G has been escalated to the Hawks.
Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj's criminal charges against the Mail & Guardian newspaper are to be investigated by the Hawks, police said on Tuesday.
Lieutenant-Colonel Lungelo Dlamini confirmed that the case, which was opened against the newspaper by Maharaj's lawyers at Parkview police station, had been transferred to the Hawks.
Hawks spokesperson McIntosh Polela could not immediately be reached for comment, but M&G editor-in-chief Nic Dawes labelled the decision to get the Hawks to investigate as "an abuse of state resources to go after our sources".
"I would have thought that the organised crime unit of the SAPS would have much more important things to worry about than running around for a politician who has been embarrassed by some journalists."
Maharaj has accused the newspaper and two of its journalists—Sam Sole and Stefaans Brümmer—of violating section 41(6) of the National Prosecuting Authority Act of 1998.
The charges relate to Friday's edition of the newspaper, the front page of which featured a picture of Maharaj alongside the words: "Censored. We cannot bring you this story in full due to a threat of criminal prosecution."
Big black blocks were printed over about three quarters of the page, where the story would have been published.
Maharaj said that the decision by the newspaper to black out parts of its report had created the impression that he had done something wrong.
He said the Act made it an offence to disclose evidence gathered in camera by a section 28 inquiry.
According to the newspaper, Maharaj had lied to the section 28 inquiry called by the now disbanded Scorpions over allegations that he received kickbacks from French arms manufacturer Thales International.
It was this information, allegedly proving that Maharaj had lied, that the newspaper wanted to publish.
Maharaj has denied ever being involved in corruption and bribery.
He told the National Press Club in Pretoria on Tuesday that he had never broken any law.
"I have not been involved in corruption, bribery or broken any law."
Maharaj was reacting to criticism that he had in effect censored the M&G by preventing it from publishing allegations against him.
He countered he had evidence that the M&G had committed a criminal offence.
"I went and did what the law says. I laid a charge."
Maharaj's attorney Rudi Krause of WDK Attorneys told the M&G: "Mr Maharaj doesn't claim to have such proof [of theft] but has requested the police to investigate that possibility. These records of such a confidential nature should have been safely kept and there obviously and reasonably exists the possibility that someone got their hands on these documents by stealing it from where it was safely kept."
Maharaj said on Tuesday that the newspaper should have approached the director of public prosecutions before approaching him or publishing its story.
He said his refusal to answer questions was a consequence of his belief that a court of law should decide whether there was any wrongdoing.
'Trial by media'
He said he was not prepared to subject himself to "trial by media".
Dawes said he "found it extraordinary" that state resources were "being used by a politician on a fishing expedition".
"He wants to know who gave us the document and what we know," said Dawes, adding that the Hawks could be better utilised fighting crime.
Dawes said a letter had been emailed and faxed to national director of public prosecutions Menzi Simelane on Tuesday regarding the use of information allegedly implicating Maharaj in illegal kickbacks.
He said a hard copy of the letter would be physically handed over on Wednesday.
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga said by lunchtime on Tuesday he was not aware that the letter had been received by the NPA and was as a result not prepared to comment.
The Sunday Times reported at the weekend that Maharaj and his wife Zarina received millions of rands in kickbacks related to the arms deal.
Maharaj said the newspaper published 800 words, but only one sentence of his three-sentence response to its questions.—Sapa
For more news on the arms deal visit our special report.