/ 1 September 2016

Hawks ignored Pravin Gordhan’s offers of help – lawyers

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on his way to deliver the 2016 budget speech.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on his way to deliver the 2016 budget speech.

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan repeatedly offered the Hawks his assistance, but the law enforcement agency did not take him up on his invitation, his lawyers said in a strongly-worded statement on Thursday.

The way in which the Hawks acted after they sent Gordhan a letter telling him to come to their offices to make a warning statement, was intended to trigger a media frenzy and humiliate the minister, his lawyers said.

Gordhan’s firm of attorneys, Gildenhuys Malatji, said on Thursday morning that they had made the statement to do away with the perception that Gordhan had not co-operated with the Hawks and was acting as if he was above the law.

“Nothing can be further from the truth,” the statement says.

Gordhan, his attorneys say, had responded fully to all the Hawks’ enquiries, offered to provide any further assistance they might require, and had scrupulously acted in accordance with the law.

The statement set out what had happened so far in the saga since the Hawks asked Gordhan to answer 27 questions on February 19 this year. Gordhan had “fully and comprehensively answered them” on March 30, “despite the fact that he was not obliged to do so”.

‘I wish to co-operate fully’
Gordhan had said, in paragraph three of his answer, that: “I wish to co-operate fully with any investigation of the Hawks into the activities of Sars. I have decided to answer your questions to the best of my ability in a spirit of full co-operation.”

The attorneys say that, in May, the media had reported that the Hawks were investigating charges against Gordhan.

They had then approached the Hawks to find out if this was true.

The head of the Hawks, General Berning Ntlemeza, had denied it in a letter dated May 20, 2016, which said that “the questions posed to the minister were in relation to the investigation that is conducted by the Hawks into the activities of the Sars unit and the minister is not a suspect in that investigation”, the statement reads.

Gordhan’s attorneys add that, despite Ntlemeza’s assurances, they had received a letter from the Hawks on August 22 calling on the minister to come to their offices on August 25 to make a “warning statement” about two matters: the establishment of the Sars investigating unit, and the early retirement and re-appointment of Sars Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay.

“Shortly after we received the letter, it was released to the media and created much speculation that the minister was about to be arrested.”

Gordhan had then responded to the Hawks’ enquiry on August 24, in a statement where he discussed the two matters raised by them.

‘Helpful as possible’
He concluded: “I have nothing further to say in relation to these matters. If the Hawks, however, require any further assistance in good faith, I would be happy to assist.”

Gordhan’s attorneys say the Hawks have not responded to this offer of further assistance.

Their statement then goes into the legal issues raised by the Hawks.

They says they told the Hawks, on the advice of senior counsel, that the assertions of law on “which the Hawks based their accusations against the minister were wholly unfounded and indeed scurrilous”.

“minister Gordhan has, however, instructed us to be as helpful as possible and to address your questions fully,” the attorneys say they told the Hawks.

The lawyers say they had made it clear that Gordhan was unable to meet Brigadier Nyameka Xaba (the head of the Hawks’ crimes against the state unit) on August 25, but that they had issued an open invitation to the specialised police unit to approach them again if they needed more information.

“The Hawks again did not respond to this invitation.”

The statement says Gordhan had decided not to go the Hawks’ offices because he was not required by law to do so, that it was “absurd to invite the minister to make a warning statement”, when he had already given a full account of his side of the story, and that Gordhan was due to attend the funeral of Reverand Makhenkesi Stofile in the Eastern Cape.

‘Designed to humiliate Gordhan’
A warning statement was merely an opportunity afforded to a suspect to give his or her side of the story, but it was entirely optional, the attorneys’ statement reads.

“The warning from which the statement derives its name is indeed a warning to the suspect that he or she has the right to remain silent.”

Gordhan’s lawyers say there was a worrying feature in the manner in which the Hawks handled the matter.

“They never had the courtesy to notify the minister that, contrary to General Ntlemeza’s assurance, he was a suspect in the investigation. They instead issued their letter out of the blue, calling on him to attend at their offices on short notice.”

The letter was then released to the media triggering speculation that Gordhan was about to be arrested, his attorneys say.

“The Hawks did nothing to dampen the media frenzy. On the contrary, their handling of the matter seemed to have been designed to trigger a media event to humiliate the minister by demonstrating in a glare of publicity how the Hawks have brought him to heel.

“The minister was not prepared to play with that agenda,” he said. – News24