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Drew Forrest, Marianne Merten26 Apr 2002 00:00
A FOUR-PERSON commission of the Democratic Alliance has found no evidence of improper conduct by Cape Town mayor and DA Western Cape leader Gerald Morkel in his dealings with fugitive German billionaire Jurgen Harksen.
The implication is that Morkel’s political career is safe, for the moment. The findings will come as a relief to DA leaders, who faced the prospect of cracking down on yet another coloured New National Party leader.
Last year’s expulsion of Peter Marais, now NNP Western Cape Premier, precipitated a split in the alliance.
Morkel is very much the glue binding the Democratic Party and NNP elements in the DA Cape Town council caucus.
However, sources said the commission’s findings were provisional, and that the police could uncover further evidence not available to it.
The inquiry panel—comprising DA councillors Dan Morkel and Patty Duncan, DA MP Ken Andrew and business consultant Tony da Silva—could make no conclusive finding on last week’s damaging media allegations of a secretive DM99 000 cash transfer from Harksen to the DA involving Morkel.
Erik Marais, a senior Absa official married to a DA councillor in Cape Town, has been suspended pending an investigation by the bank, amid media suggestions that foreign exchange regulations may have been breached.
The DA commissioners questioned Morkel and former finance MEC Leon Markowitz.
The commission, due to submit an interim report on Friday to the DA’s Western Cape management committee, was set up last week following a flurry of media reports alleging Morkel took party donations and money for personal expenses from Harksen.
An unrehabilitated insolvent since 1995, when his estate was sequestrated, the controversial German faces extradition to Germany in connection with fraud and tax evasion charges allegedly involving R1-billion.
More drama surrounded him on Thursday when police and justice officials arrived at Goodwood prison—where Harksen has been confined since breaking his bail conditions in the extradition matter—seeking his immediate deportation. They were blocked by his lawyers, who argued that Harksen had not waived in writing his right of appeal against extradition.
Minister of Justice Penuell Maduna signed the extradition order before the 15-day right of appeal expired on the basis of Harksen’s verbal waiver during his recent court appearance.
Maduna’s spokesperson, Paul Setsetse, was adamant that the government would act against the German. “He is playing cat and mouse with us. We will extradite him. This country does not harbour alleged criminals.”
Sources said no great shocks had been revealed to the commission, which was charged with finding out if any DA representative had received benefits corruptly or not legally due, and whether the party received donations from Harksen.
However, it conceded it could only summon DA members for questioning and could not examine personal bank accounts. It also had no access to certain pieces of evidence in media hands, including an alleged request to Harksen for funds signed by Schwella on a DA letterhead.
It was “99% certain” that Morkel had not taken money for rent or legal fees. Invoices for these were found during a police raid on the boutique owned by Harksen’s wife.
Morkel and Markowitz acknowledged social contact with Harksen, and having solicited funds. However, the commission found no evidence of money having been received, while the social relationship fell outside its terms of reference.
It accepted Morkel and Markowitz’s assurances that a party donation at the relevant time had come from a source other than Harksen. It had not pressed them to name the donor, as the money was given on condition of confidentiality.
Uncertainty persists over the authenticity of some documents found in Harksen’s possession that seem to implicate Morkel and Markowitz. A trustee of Harksen’s estate, Michael Lane, confirmed documents were found, but said they had to be verified.
“Harksen creates a complete illusion, complete fantasy. He is a master at presenting people with documents.”
The Harksen trustees still plan to question Markowitz, who this month admitted to the Cape Times that he rented a property from the German after earlier denying this. Harksen is alleged to have used fake Chase Manhattan letters of credit to dupe South Africans in get-rich-quick schemes and fake investments.
Faced with years in Pollsmoor prison, Harksen may have decided to accept extradition. But this week’s arrest of his wife, Jeanette, now cited as a co-accused in the fraud case, may have changed his mind.
The Mail & Guardian has been informed no listening devices were found. Instead, a bug detector, lying disconnected in a cupboard, was shown to National Intelligence Agency officials.
The device was purchased on the orders of former provincial director general Niel Barnard after a Cabinet decision to have one secure room where sensitive matters could be discussed.
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