‘Busy’ Mbete drops bribery beef

ANC chairperson and parliamentary speaker Baleka Mbete has withdrawn her complaint to the press ombud that an amaBhungane article in July 2013 about her was defamatory and unfair.

The article, published in the Mail & Guardian, described the finding by investigators from a prominent New York law firm that a R26-million share allocation to her constituted bribery by the mining house Gold Fields. 

The law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison was contracted by Gold Fields itself to investigate allegations of corruption in its 2010 black economic empowerment deal and the related granting of a new-order mining right to its South Deep gold mine.

In a slide presentation to the Gold Fields board last July, the investigators alleged that an enormous last-minute increase in Mbete’s free share allocation was a response by Gold Fields to a threat by Mbete’s representative that the South Deep transaction would be “scuttled”. 

According to the Paul, Weiss slides: “Giving Mbete shares to avoid ‘scuttling’ the deal violates the [United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] anti-bribery provisions.” 

No specific finding but
There was no specific finding against Mbete, who, Paul, Weiss said, did not make herself available for questioning. 

They said: “In any event, under [the Act] what counts is [the company executives’] belief and intent to make corrupt payments, not whether the official acted improperly.” 

The investigators recommended that Gold Fields “self-report” the matter to the US authorities. The company appears not to have done this. Instead, it ended its engagement with Paul, Weiss after the presentation. 

In a bland public statement last August, the company did not detail the bribery allegations but stuck to generalities, including that “the implementation of the [BEE] transaction did not consistently meet the high standards set by Gold Fields”. 

Mbete did not respond to questions before amaBhungane’s article was published but, in her complaint to the ombud, she denied being bribed. After publication, the ANC demanded a retraction, calling the article “sensational, defamatory and slanderous”. 

It claimed that the M&G “will stop at nothing to discredit the ANC and its leaders”. Mbete filed a complaint with the press ombud against the newspaper. 

Also after publication, the US Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation, which remains ongoing. Gold Fields is subject to US law as it is listed in New York. 

The press ombud dismissed Mbete’s complaint last November, but she appealed the decision. An appeals panel found that her complaint had been misconstrued to apply to the headline only, and referred it back to the ombud to reconsider. 

 After the M&G filed a new response, Mbete’s lawyer emailed the ombud last Friday to withdraw the complaint: “Our client is currently presiding as the speaker of Parliament. 

She has been very busy and has not been able to give attention to the matter.”

In a separate complaint, the panel ordered the M&G to apologise for writing in another article that Mbete “had been accused of having exploited state funds” in relation to the Travelgate scandal. The newspaper published an apology in June.

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The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for our stories, activities and funding sources.

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