Stuttering Abrahams: 'It wasn't me' ... and other tall tales

The pursuit of Pravin Gordhan arguably ended in embarrassment today. (Oupa Nkosi and David Harrisson)

The pursuit of Pravin Gordhan arguably ended in embarrassment today. (Oupa Nkosi and David Harrisson)

It took prosecutions boss Shaun Abrahams 20 days from affirming that the “buck stops with me” to passing that very same buck on to his lynch-man and the Hawks.

On October 11, Abrahams berated a journalist, saying: “The days of disrespecting the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) are over.”

On October 31 Abrahams did his utmost to relay: “It wasn’t me”.

And, in contrast to his beaming, assertive nature of three weeks ago, Abrahams fidgeted, stuttered and pleaded with journalists and the public to understand. The NPA is a big organisation with lots of cases to deal with; he really shouldn’t be held responsible, he argued.

Abrahams announced on Monday morning the withdrawal of fraud charges against Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and his former colleagues Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula at the NPA’s Silverton office.

The charges relate to a pension fund payout and the rehiring on contract of Pillay in 2009 when the trio still worked at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and Gordhan had his first stint as minister of finance.

After “reviewing” the matter, Abrahams on Monday said he was “satisfied that Mr Magashula, Mr Pillay and Minister Gordhan did not have the requisite intention to act unlawfully”.

Abrahams wasn’t nearly as assertive as he was 20 days ago when he took ownership of the Gordhan prosecution and boldly announced the charges of fraud, and theft in the alternative, against the three.

His right-hand man and lead prosecutor in the matter, Torie Pretorius (head of the priority crimes litigation unit), looked decidedly ill on Monday.

Much of Abrahams’ decision to withdraw the charges seem to hinge on a 2009 legal opinion written by senior Sars employee Vlok Symington. The opinion could find no fault with the payout, nor the rehiring of Pillay, and it was duly implemented.

Its existence had amazingly slipped by the NPA until October 14, when it was attached to a letter written to Abrahams by the Helen Suzman Foundation and Freedom Under Law. 

This despite the Symington opinion being publicly available since December 2014 when Pillay attached it to court documents in the Labour Court – a case against his suspension from Sars that he had won.

If the NPA properly and duly offered Gordhan, Pillay and Magashula a chance to make representations before they were charged, the Symington opinion would have been brought to their attention.

It flies in the face of Abrahams’ explanation, whilst stumbling and drinking lots of water during his press conference, that neither he, nor Pretorius, could be held accountable for missing the decisive information.

Instead, he alluded that the Hawks hadn’t done their work properly.

Startlingly, Abrahams wanted South Africa to understand that the NPA is in fact fully dependent on evidence the Hawks provide.

Abrahams then went to great pains to explain that it was, in fact, Pretorius who decided to prosecute Gordhan, Pillay and Magashula.

As if Abrahams didn’t take ownership of the Gordhan prosecution on October 11. So much for “the buck stops with me”.

It was as if Abrahams couldn’t and didn’t apply his mind when he initially read out the charges in a slow and deliberate manner.

His assertion is further in direct contradiction to what NPA insiders revealed – namely that Abrahams personally met with the Hawks regarding the Gordhan case on numerous occasions. Up to 10 times, one source said.

The last straw perhaps was Abrahams harping on and on about Sars employees being accountable to the Public Service Act.

That the Sars Act states that Sars employees are not governed by the Public Service Act, also seems to have slipped by Abrahams.

At best, Abrahams’ press briefing regarding the Gordhan prosecution on Monday smacks of gross incompetence.

At worst, it implicated him as being part of a malicious prosecution.

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