Court bans M&G Oilgate report

The Johannesburg High Court banned the Mail & Guardian on Thursday night from running a follow-up to its report last week that Sandi Majali's oil company Imvume Management paid R11-million of taxpayers' money to the African National Congress.

Judge Vas Soni ruled that the newspaper cannot print the article.

The media attending the urgent hearing were also gagged from disclosing any of the allegations made.

On behalf of Imvume, advocate Nazeer Cassim argued that the information to be published had been obtained illegally and that the company's constitutional right to privacy and dignity had been infringed.

M&G advocate John Campbell argued that the facts in the article had been confirmed by another source and therefore did not prejudice the company's rights.

After a four-hour hearing, Soni ruled in favour of Majali and Imvume, as the M&G had chosen not to disclose the means by which it obtained its information and that the public interest it argued did not outweigh the contravention of the company's rights.

Reacting to the ruling, M&G editor Ferial Haffajee said the right to privacy has defeated the freedom of speech.

"We've been gagged," she said. "Our biggest concern is press freedom, but we will respect the court's hearing."

Haffajee said the cost of having to pull back the editions that had already been printed and those to be printed could be more than R1,5-million.

As the hearing continued, trucks were already on the roads, delivering the newspapers.

Haffajee was summoned to court on Thursday at about 4.30pm, along with other senior officials and the paper's publishers, after Sandi Majali of Imvume Management applied for an interdict.

Funding scandal

Last week, an M&G investigation into covert party funding revealed how R11-million of public money was diverted to ANC coffers ahead of the 2004 elections.

The M&G established that PetroSA irregularly paid R15-million to Imvume Management at a time when the ANC was desperate for funds to fight elections.

"The M&G possesses bank statements and has seen other forensic evidence proving that Imvume transferred the lion's share of this to the ANC within days. PetroSA this week said it was unaware of this.
The ANC denied impropriety and said it was not obliged to discuss its funders," last week's report said.

The scheme unfolded in two stages. First, PetroSA management bent over backwards to pay Imvume the money as an advance for the procurement of oil condensate. Then, when Imvume diverted the funds to the ANC instead of paying its own foreign suppliers, PetroSA had to cover the shortfall by paying the same amount again.

A multimillion-rand hole remains in the parastatal's books. PetroSA has gone through the motions to recover the debt by suing Imvume—but most of it remains outstanding, the M&G reported.

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