Cheque weakens case against Morkel
Persuasive evidence emerged on Thursday that Cape Town’s Democratic Alliance mayor, Gerald Morkel, did not receive money for his rent from controversial businessman Jurgen Harksen, who faces extradition to Germany on fraud and tax evasion charges involving R1-billion.
Media reports on Thursday suggested Morkel received thousands of rands towards his rent from Harksen for his Cape Town flat early this year.
However, Morkel’s office sent the Mail & Guardian a copy of a cheque for the required amount R55 635 signed by his personal secretary, George van Dieman.
The cheque, processed by the Sea Point Standard Bank on December 11 last year, is made out to the managers of Morkel’s flat, Seeff Properties.
Morkel is understood to have approached Van Dieman after losing the Western Cape premiership last year, pending the payout of his government pension.
The new evidence weakens suggestions of an improper relationship between Morkel and Harksen, and lends some support to DA claims that the controversy is linked to the intensifying struggle for the hearts and minds of Western Cape councillors.
Floor-crossing legislation, which will enable councillors to defect to rival parties, is to be processed by the National Assembly within weeks. The allegations, which include claims that Harksen paid Morkel’s legal fees and made a donation to the DA, also come two days before the DA’s inaugural conference.
The Harksen claims are the latest in a series against Morkel since the African National Congress and New National Party took control of the Western Cape government. Western Cape Premier Peter Marais has announced a commission under High Court Judge Siraj Desai to probe claims that the provincial legislature was bugged during Morkel’s premiership. He has also appointed a probe under MEC for Local Government Willem Doman to investigate evictions and Cape Town’s debt-collection practices.
Marais immediately announced this week that the Desai commission would be asked to probe the Harksen allegations. The rent rumpus was triggered on Wednesday when Morkel announced, out of the blue, that he had no knowledge of a donation by Harksen to the Western Cape DA. He was apparently responding to media inquiries.
“It is the second time the allegation has surfaced in the past five months. The first was based on the fact that both Harksen and I and many others are clients of the attorneys C&A Friedlander,” he said in a statement.
The DA’s Nick Clelland-Stokes said it had been established that the party’s national offices had not received a $75 000 donation from Harksen or one of his companies, Global Finance, in December 2000, as reported in The Star. However, Clelland-Stokes left open the question of whether the DA’s Western Cape region received money.
Mystery still surrounds invoices relating to the rental and legal fees reportedly found in Harksen’s wife’s office. Media reports have also suggested Harksen paid R230 000 to cover the costs of Morkel’s court battle against his expulsion from the NNP in November last year.
It is understood police seized the invoices among a range of documents in connection with a fraud investigation into Harksen. Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Penuell Maduna said on Thursday he would decide soon whether the extradited billionaire would first face fraud charges in a South African court.
Morkel’s spokesperson, Kylie Haddon, said she “had no idea” how the invoices could have found their way to Harksen’s wife. “Assuming they were indeed found there, they in no way prove that money was paid over,” Haddon said.
She strongly denied that Harksen or his front companies had paid any money to Morkel, whether for personal or party expenses, adding that no one had offered any suggestion as to the quid pro quo Harksen received in exchange for alleged palm-greasing.
“The political environment is such that there is a lot of pressure on the NNP to deliver on its agreement with the African National Congress,” she said. “We believe these Harksen allegations are surfacing at an opportune time in regard to [floor-crossing] legislation.”
Morkel indicated on Thursday that a trust had been formed to pay the cost of his legal action, and referred reporters to his lawyer, Paul Katzeff of Cape Town legal firm C&A Friedlander. Katzeff could not be contacted on Thursday.
Morkel has admitted approaching Harksen with former Western Cape finance MEC Leon Markowitz for funding for a Grand Prix racing track. The project has not materialised.
He spoke vaguely about receiving a R500 000 donation, but said it had come from “a respectable German company”.
Sources said this was a confused reference to the computer software company, Dell, which is in fact US-based, not to Harksen. DA leaders played down the fact that DA leader Tony Leon and Morkel were present at fundraising meetings in 2000, one at Harksen’s bungalow at Clifton and another at Constantia Uitsig addressed by Leon.
Clelland-Stokes responded: “Tony was at the lunch, spoke and left early. He goes to lots of lunches.”