Morkel gets a grilling at Desai Commission

Embattled Cape Town mayor Gerald Morkel was grilled to a turn on Thursday as he struggled to explain to the Desai Commission whether he would have accepted a donation from fraud suspect Jurgen Harksen.

Under probing cross-examination by advocate Craig Webster, for the commission, he also equivocated over whether he had accepted Harksen’s claim that he was one of the richest men in the world.

He said Harksen told him he was employing 1 200 people ”at executive level and whatnot” in his companies across the world.

”Did you believe that?” asked Judge Siraj Desai.

”I accepted what he said, perhaps I took it with a pinch of salt. I must have believed some of it,” said Morkel.

Morkel said that at their first meeting, on November 28, 2000, Harksen told him he intended to make a donation to the Democratic Alliance, which Morkel heads in the Western Cape. Though no amount was mentioned at the time, he learned afterwards from DA fundraiser Leon Markovitz that Harksen had promised half a million rand.

”I welcomed it (the offer),” said Morkel. ”Mr Harksen did say one thing. He said that he’s insolvent in South Africa and that the money would come from outside South Africa.”

Harksen, who is fighting deportation to Germany where he faces multi-billion rand tax and fraud charges, claims he donated more than a million rand to the DA and to Morkel personally.

Morkel has already testified that Harksen’s promises of cash never materialised.

Asked by Webster whether, if Harksen had arrived the next day with half a million rand, he would have accepted it, Morkel said: ”You are speculating now.

”Only when I did get the money would I know what to do… I didn’t receive the money.”

Pressed by Webster, he said: ”I might have accepted it, chances are that I would have accepted it.”

However, soon afterwards he told Webster that if he knew that Harksen had donated money ”personally”, he would have ordered it handed back ”because Harksen’s insolvent, so how can you take money from him?”

Asked if he would have accepted a donation from one of Harksen’s overseas companies, he said: ”We would have to have it checked out.”

Morkel said that before he met Harksen he had had no particular interest in following news reports of the German’s repeated brushes with the South African authorities.

He had only had a general perception that Harksen had managed to buck the law for eight years and that despite all the allegations against him the justice department had not managed to extradite him.

”So one says to yourself, perhaps this guy’s got some sort of a story if he’s still here after eight years,” Morkel said.

He said he had thought at that stage that the German fraud charges against Harksen related only to unpaid taxes.

”If the fraud was related to the tax, most people in this country would actually be fighting the tax man,” he said.

”Do you think it was appropriate to meet him?” asked Webster.

”In hindsight I think it was inappropriate now that one has realised the allegations against Mr Harksen. If I was aware of all of these things at the time I would not have met him.”

Morkel sought to explain why he abruptly broke off his ”lovely friendship” with Harksen as soon as the German was arrested earlier this year by saying that at that stage allegations had been flying ”fast and furious”, and that he realised it had perhaps been a one-sided friendship.

Challenged on why he had been dining out with Harksen a month after a news report in January this year that Harksen had hid millions of rands from the trustees of his insolvent estate in a range of front companies and trusts, he said Harksen had told him it was all lies.

”Did you accept what he told you?” asked Webster.

”I heard what he said,” replied Morkel.

Pressed repeatedly by Webster and Desai for a direct answer, he eventually said: ”I wouldn’t say 100%, because there’s never smoke without fire.”

He said neither he, not Markovitz, was aware of the exact identity of the anonymous donor of a sum of DM99 000 which was given to the DA, but that Markovitz had assured him it was not Harksen.

Asked how the party protected itself against receiving money from the proceeds of crime, he said that if there were suspicions, there were legal ”ways and means” of getting people to say who anonymous donors were.

The hearing continues on Friday morning. – Sapa

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