Public protector initiates “preliminary investigation” into Gupta email claims

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane will begin an inquiry into whether recent allegations of state capture emerging from the Gupta emails leaks have merit.

Mkhwebane made the announcement late on Wednesday night in a press statement.

“In view of the new allegations published in different media, [the] so called “Gupta e-mails leaks”, I have received a complaint most of the issues forms part of the State of Capture Report,” she said.

However, there are aspects of the complaint received by the Public Protector’s office that contain new state capture allegations which have emerged from the emails. Previously, much of the allegations of state capture were revealed in the Public Protector’s State of Capture report last year.

Mkhwebane outlined new allegations from the recent trove of emails that have been reported on in her press statement. They include:

– Former Communications Minister Faith Muthambi leaked confidential information to the Guptas

– Former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba strategically placed two home affairs officials in India to benefit Gupta-run businesses through liaison with another official from the government department

– Brian Molefe’s reappointment at Eskom and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown’s role in the affair

– Brown’s failure to exert oversight over Eskom and its board

– Matshela Koko channeled money to a company run by his daughter and leaked legal opinions to the Guptas

– Former Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi’s allegations that Molefe and Ben Ngubane had pressurized him to help the Guptas take control of Glencore coal mine in 2016

– Current deputy finance minister Sifiso Buthelezi’s alleged failure to disclose a conflict of interest while he was Prasa chairperson

The new allegations also include accusations against Transnet officials for an irregular tender that involved R5.3-million in kickbacks. EFF leader Julius Malema called a press conference where he spoke on the allegations shortly before pressing charges against Gigaba and other officials involved in Prasa at the time. Gupta associates at Trillian and Regiments Capital are said to have influenced the tender.

Mkhwebane will launch a preliminary investigation into the accuracy of these allegations because of the misconduct that has been alleged against Prasa, Eskom and Transnet – all state-owned entities. The Public Protector says that there has been a possible breach of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act and there has been alleged “unlawful enrichment” of the officials at these SOEs.

The announcement comes after months of suspicion that Mkhwebane has been a Zuma aide in the Public Protector’s office. Malema admitted, at one point, that the EFF had made a “terrible mistake” when it endorsed Mkhwebane for the job after Thuli Madonsela left office.

Mkhwebane, like the Hawks and SAPS, has faced pressure to begin an investigation into the allegations that have emerged from the Gupta emails. The emails show communication from staff at Gupta company Sahara to or about various members of the executive.

President Jacob Zuma has taken the State of Capture report to court to request that it be reviewed. The case is due to be heard in October, but months after it was filed, Mkhwebane has yet to file responding papers that state whether or not her office will oppose the President’s request.

The complaint lodged with Mkhwebane’s office regarding the emails seems to have spurred the Public Protector into action. Mkhwebane said that her office is currently too strapped for resources to initiate investigations without complaints.

“Although the Public Protector is empowered to initiate her own initiative investigation in terms of Section 6(5) of the Public Protector Act, (23 of 1994), she may not be able to due to capacity constraints of less than 200 investigators nationwide.”

It is unclear who made the complaint to the Public Protector’s office.

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