Stuttering Abrahams: ‘It wasn’t me’ … and other tall tales

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.

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Pauli van Wyk
Pauli van Wyk is a Scorpio investigative journalist. She writes about the justice cluster, state-owned companies, state politics and the inescapable collision course they're on. Pauli cut her teeth at Media24. She became a journo at Beeld, was trained by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and joined Mail & Guardian's investigative team before becoming a member of Scorpio.

Related stories

Clicks-bait: EFF MP’s new parole probe

Kenny Motsamai, a parolee who is also an EFF MP, could be sent back to jail if correctional services finds he violated his parole conditions

EFF MPs to be investigated for disrupting parliamentary proceedings

Under the spotlight will be the Economic Freedom Fighters’ behaviour at the State of the Nation address and during the public enterprise department’s budget speech

Gupta-linked Bobat was hired on merit, Van Rooyen tells Zondo commission

Former finance minister Des van Rooyan said he did not have Mohamed Bobat’s CV when he appointed him as a special adviser

SAA 2.0 hopes to start lean and grow from next year

Draft agreement document spells out that R1.5-billion will be needed to fund severance packages for 2 400 of the airline’s employees

ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim interdicts

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Sell assets or create a new airline? Tussle over SAA future intensifies

The department of public enterprises is concerned that the proposed sale of assets threatens its plans to engineer SAA 2.0

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…