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R2K: M&G did not break the law

Sapa

The Mail & Guardian did not break the law by publishing parts of NPA transcripts as Mac Maharaj contests, says the Right To Know (R2K).

Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj. (M&G)

The civil society organisation said on Monday Maharaj's pursuit of the charges against the newspaper suggested "an attempt to isolate and intimidate critics of the presidential spokesperson".

"First, it is not clear how the M&G has broken the law. Section 41(6) of the NPA Act prevents disclosure of investigatory material, not its mere possession ... The M&G did not publish the transcript, they blacked out the relevant sections ... so they are not guilty of what Maharaj has accused them," R2K said in a statement.

Maharaj insisted last Friday that the M&G broke the law by running an article on his testimony in an arms deal probe.

It did so by trying to publish records of an inquiry into allegations that he received kickbacks from French arms manufacturer Thales, he said.

"The M&G is in violation of the National Prosecuting Authority Act," Maharaj said.

This was why he decided to proceed with charges against the newspaper and two of its investigative reporters, Maharaj wrote in an opinion piece published by the M&G.

He contended that the newspaper transgressed Section 41(6) of the act in disclosing information gathered in the course of a confidential inquiry.

He said the M&G could only have received the records unlawfully "in that they were stolen from where they were kept before they were handed to the M&G".

The charges relate to an article the weekly ran in November last year with most of the wording, and sections of an accompanying editorial, blacked out.

The paper's editor-in-chief Nic Dawes said if printed in full, the story would have shown that Maharaj lied when questioned under oath by the now defunct Scorpions.

Dawes and reporters Sam Sole and Stefaans Brümmer have been questioned by the NPA's specialised commercial crimes unit in Pretoria about the matter.

Maharaj has denied ever being involved in corruption and bribery.

R2K said Maharaj's concern about confidentiality was "highly selective".

It contended that the transcript which formed the basis of the charges against the M&G was already in the public domain.

"Maharaj himself handed the transcript to his biographer, and it has been published by the City Press."

The organisation questioned why there were no charges pursued against those in the NPA who had unlawfully leaked the information.

"The broader issue at stake is the right of any citizen ... to expose unlawful conduct or wrongdoing, without which there can be no democratic accountability," it said. – Sapa

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