POLICE Minister Nathi Mthethwa has come out fighting for Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, vehemently denying the existence of a police investigation of her and vowing to get to the bottom of “baseless” corruption allegations against her.
In an exclusive interview at police headquarters in Pretoria, Mthethwa said he was shocked by a front- page report in The Star yesterday that said the police planned to arrest Madonsela on charges of fraud and corruption relating to R1.8- million allegedly paid to her company while she worked full-time for the SA Law Reform Commission.
Mthethwa said if the police were investigating Madonsela, both he and national police commissioner General Bheki Cele would have known about it.
“I know nothing. In fact, I can say there is no such [investigation]. If it were from the police, I would have known if it involved the Public Protector,” he said.
Mthethwa said he had started investigating the claims as soon as he heard of them yesterday morning.
“While the Public Protector was on the line [during a radio interview], I called the national commissioner and even he didn’t know anything about it.”
He had phoned Madonsela to ask if she had received any official communication or documents from the police and her response was a clear “No”, he said.
“If somebody is playing a game we should not be pawns in that game, because nothing would have stopped the police going to her officially to say, ‘We are investigating you’ or ‘There is a case against you’.”
Mthethwa said he was concerned about the motives behind the newspaper report. “It may well be scare tactics, but the question is: from whom … I want the truth myself.”
At a briefing yesterday, Madonsela said the report was baseless, malicious and designed to scupper her investigation of the R1.1-billion deal to lease a Durban building owned by businessman Roux Shabangu as the police’s KwaZulu- Natal headquarters.
She said her company, Waweth Law and Policy Research Agency, had received three small contracts, amounting to R40000, for selling books and designing a book cover for the law commission, and possibly another contract, for R6000, for facilitating labour relations in the Justice Department.
“The question of R1.8-million is malicious and baseless. The Department of Justice was aware that I owned Waweth, and the Treasury became aware [of it] when I made submissions related to my salary as a commissioner,” she said.
“There was an issue about my payment as a full- time commissioner and I made submissions before I joined the department.”
She said allegations that she had not disclosed her interest in the company were mischievous.
“The timing of the [newspaper] report – on the day that was mistaken for the one on which I would release the report on the Durban police building lease – makes these allegations more suspicious.”
Madonsela said this was the second time she had faced interference while investigating the police. The first was when police counter-intelligence officers had tried to raid her offices in March while she was investigating the R500- million police lease on a Pretoria building also owned by Shabangu.
She found the Pretoria deal unlawful and invalid, and that Cele and Public Works Minister Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde were guilty of improper conduct.
Yesterday, Madonsela said she had been told two days ago the two counter- intelligence officers who had entered her offices in March were back at work.
She said she would request a meeting with the speaker of parliament, Max Sisulu, to ask his advice. She also said she would release her final report on the Durban lease on Thursday next week.
Madonsela revealed that Cele had written to her, asking that she take legal action against the Sunday Times for publishing the contents of her leaked provisional report on the Durban lease deal. She told Cele the matter had been dealt with and there was no need to rush into criminal proceedings.
The Council for the Advancement of the Constitution said: “We call upon all South Africans who care about the rule of law and the Chapter Nine institutions to join together in defence of the Public Protector.”
The Law Society of SA called on Cele and Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to investigate the matter speedily and report back openly to the Public Protector and the public.
Earlier, the DA said that reported plans to arrest her formed part of a pattern of intimidation if the allegations against her were untrue.
“There is thus already a clearly established pattern of intimidation of anybody who has been involved in finding or exposing wrongdoing on the part of the [SA Police Service],” DA MP Debbie Schafer said, referring to the protector’s investigation into the multimillion-rand leases for police office space and the arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika, who wrote about it, and an Mpumalanga government employee, Victor Mlimo. Charges were withdrawn against both. “It is too coincidental that these allegations against the Public Protector are now surfacing,” Schafer said.
The ACDP said it would ask parliament to investigate the source of the criminal complaint against Madonsela.
“Because the Public Protector is accountable to, and must be protected by parliament, the ACDP calls upon the speaker to urgently investigate the source of this criminal complaint, whether there is substance to the allegations, or to ascertain whether it amounts to intimidation of [Madonsela].”
Civil rights group AfriForum said Cele should give some answers. “Cele should not only comment on the SAPS’ lease agreements, but also give reasons why it seems increasingly as if the SAPS is abusing its power to target people who investigate the activities of senior members of the police,” chief executive Kallie Kriel said. Azapo urged Madonsela to not to be deterred. – Additional reporting by Sapa