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01 Aug 2003 08:43
Embattled former transport minister Mac Maharaj and his wife Zarina have become the latest “victims” of an apparent leak from the Scorpions unit.
The Star newspaper contacted Maharaj on Thursday and told him a source in the elite investigating unit had informed them that Zarina was about to be arrested on tax evasion charges.
When public prosecutions head Bulelani Ngcuka, who is responsible for the Scorpions, told Maharaj no such arrest was planned, Maharaj issued a media statement demanding that The Star’s source be revealed and prosecuted.
Late on Thursday night, The Star said that it had decided to pull what would have been an exclusive story on the reported tax evasion probe after Maharaj issued his statement.
Deputy editor Jovial Rantao, who wrote the story, had by then gone home and was not available for comment.
Thursday’s exchange of telephone calls and statements was the latest twist in a growing row surrounding the Scorpions and its treatment of information.
Last Sunday, the Sunday Times published a list of questions—leaked to it by an unnamed source—that the Scorpions had put to Deputy President Jacob Zuma about his alleged involvement in corruption in the multi-million rand arms deal.
The leak of the questions and their subsequent publication raised the ire of the deputy president.
Zuma is alleged to have tried to solicit R500 000 from a company which benefited from the arms deal.
In his statement on Thursday night, Maharaj said Rantao had told him that a source in the Scorpions had informed him “during the past seven days” that Zarina was going to be charged for tax evasion.
“He (Rantao) was not prepared to divulge his source, save to say that his source in the Scorpions was a person that he ‘had no reason to doubt’,” Maharaj said.
After Ngcuka and Justice Minister Penuell Maduna assured him that no such arrest was imminent, Maharaj said he called Rantao back and told him he believed his source was pursuing a “hidden agenda”.
“I believed it was his (Rantao’s) duty as a journalist to ask himself whether his source was manipulating him for the source’s own agenda.
“I am releasing this statement to the media because I believe that if Mr Rantao receives this confirmation (that Zarina is not about to be arrested) directly from Mr Ngcuka, then there is a duty on Mr Rantao to reveal the identity of his source in the
Scorpions,” Maharaj said.
Maharaj said that, if The Star’s source was proved to be wrong, then he or she was misusing his position and should be “identified, investigated and charged”.
Approached by Sapa for comment on the matter, Scorpions spokesperson Sipho Ngwema said the Scorpions had interviewed Maharaj’s wife in June but that the unit had not charged anyone as a result of this interview.
“How can you charge people when you are still busy interviewing people,” Ngwema said. “We are not aware of what Jovial (Rantao) is saying.”
Ngwema also challenged Rantao to reveal the name of his source in the Scorpions.
The Star’s planned story came as banking group FirstRand wrapped up a four-month independent enquiry into newspaper allegations of corruption against Maharaj, a non-executive director of the group.
Maharaj has undertaken to submit the response within seven days, the bank said on Thursday.
The FirstRand probe followed a series of media reports regarding payments made to Maharaj by Schabir Shaik, a Durban businessman currently under investigation by the Scorpions.
The reports alleged Shaik had made a number of large payments to Maharaj and his wife after the transport ministry, he then headed, awarded lucrative licensing and toll-road contracts to companies associated with the businessman.
Shaik is also at the centre of the allegations against Zuma who had hired Shaik as his personal financial adviser.
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