/ 30 July 2005

Oilgate: It’s not over yet

The Mail & Guardian on Friday challenged the public protector to a public debate on its report into the Oilgate saga, which the newspaper called “rather meaningless”.

Earlier in the day, Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana told reporters at the release of the report that he found no evidence of wrongdoing in the scandal, involving a payment by black empowerment company Imvume Management to the African National Congress.

“The ANC and Imvume are not public entities, they do not perform public functions and are not part of any level of government.

“The state has no shareholding in Imvume,” Mushwana said, reading from the report.

“The alleged payment was clearly made by one private entity to another and could therefore not have had any bearing on state affairs.”

In May, the Johannesburg High Court interdicted the M&G from running a follow-up to a report that oil company Imvume paid R11-million of taxpayers’ money to the ANC.

M&G editor Ferial Haffajee said on Friday she stands by the newspaper’s investigation, and looks forward to testifying on Oilgate before Parliament’s minerals committee in September.

“In its press statement, the protector says that much of what was published by the M&G was ‘factually inaccurate, based on incomplete information and document and comprised of unsubstantiated suggestions and unspecified speculation’.

“We find it extremely strange that the public protector makes such a serious allegation without once having attempted to contact the newspaper.”

She said the M&G is taking legal advice in this regard.

“The actual report [also] fails to mention a single factual inaccuracy.”

The M&G said the protector’s report bears all the hallmarks of a whitewash.

“In fact, it is little more than a restatement of the government’s version of events.

“The thrust of the report is to find excuses for the government rather than getting to bottom of our investigation, which we maintain shows the misuse of public money to benefit the ANC before last year’s election.”

In its coverage, the M&G described a three-cornered scheme in which PetroSA (public) money was channelled to the ANC via Imvume, effectively its front company.

“The protector dodges the relationship between Imvume and the ANC, and the R11-million ‘donation’ that passed between them, on the spurious grounds that this was a private matter which falls outside his jurisdiction.

“The failure to deal with this core issue renders his report largely meaningless,” Haffajee said.

Opposition up in arms over report

Though opposition parties on Friday also questioned Mushwana’s report on the Oilgate scandal and pledged to take up the issue with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the African National Congress said it accepts his findings.

Commenting afterwards, ANC spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama said his party has noted, and accepted, Mushwana’s findings.

“Because of other legal processes relating this matter, the ANC will not comment further at this stage,” he said.

However, Democratic Alliance chief whip Douglas Gibson said R11-million-worth “of public money cannot simply disappear into ANC coffers, via an ANC front company, without somebody being called to account”.

“If the public protector cannot or will not act, we have every confidence that the NPA will investigate the matter properly and institute prosecutions if these are justified.”

The DA will next week present a dossier outlining all available evidence surrounding the scandal, along with a series of key questions, to the NPA, with a request to investigate the matter.

“On the face of the evidence available, it is quite apparent that only after a full forensic or public investigation will the true nature of the relationship between Imvume Management, PetroSA and the ANC be fully understood,” Gibson said.

The Freedom Front Plus, which made the original request to Mushwana to investigate the matter, said it too will approach the NPA.

The NPA had earlier indicated it could not investigate before the public protector’s probe was completed, FF+ MP and minerals and energy spokesperson Willie Spies said.

“The situation has, however, now changed. The law is a double-edged sword. If PetroSA did not do anything wrong by making a non-owed payment to Imvume Management, then Imvume most certainly acted incorrectly by convincing PetroSA under false pretences to make the payment.

“The FF+ will therefore immediately be requesting the NPA to reopen the issue for investigation,” Spies said.

Imvume sues M&G on sources

Meanwhile, Imvume Management has launched a court action to force the M&G to expose its confidential sources.

On Thursday last week, the company lodged an application in the Johannesburg High Court to compel the M&G, among other things, to disclose how the newspaper acquired information relating to Imvume’s bank account and “the precise source” of such information.

In an affidavit setting out his case, Imvume boss Sandi Majali notes: “There is an obvious ‘leak’ whereby [Imvume’s] confidential information is finding its way into the hands of the respondents.

“[Imvume] is entitled to know the source of this ‘leak’ to enable it to take steps to stop the leak and prevent the unauthorised disclosure of information from whatever that source may be.”

Haffajee said Imvume wants the newspaper to disclose its sources.

“We will not do so. Journalism, globally, is facing threats to the principle of protecting confidential sources,” she said.

“This is the most significant post-apartheid challenge to the protection of sources in this country. We look forward to fighting it, though we have put out requests for financial assistance with our mounting legal bills.”

The court application also seeks to interdict the newspaper from further publishing or disclosing any information relating to the bank account or pursuing any further investigation in regard to the bank account.

Imvume wants the court to order the M&G to disclose the precise details of all documents relating to Imvume’s bank account that the newspaper has or may have had and to hand over any such documents to Imvume.