Lawyers for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Thursday morning issued a statement on his behalf to correct “the perception that he has not co-operated with the Hawks”.
Last week‚ Gordhan made headlines by refusing a Hawks demand that he present himself for a warning statement over a probe related to his time as commissioner of the South African Revenue Service.
In a statement‚ Gildenhuys Malatji Attorneys said Gordhan “responded fully to all the Hawks’ enquiries‚ offered to provide any further assistance they might require and scrupulously acted in accordance with the law”.
It went on to provide “the timeline and facts”‚ which follows below in full and unedited:
On February 19 the Hawks asked Minister Gordhan to answer some 27 questions. The Minister fully and comprehensively answered them on 30 March 2016 despite the fact that he was not obliged to do so. He said in paragraph 3 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.”
In May 2016 the media reported that the Hawks were investigating charges against the Minister. On his instructions‚ we enquired from the Hawks whether it was true. General Ntlemeza‚ the head of the Hawks‚ explicitly denied the rumour in a letter dated 20 May 2016. He explained 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.”
Despite General Ntlemeza’s assurance‚ we received a letter from the Hawks out of the blue on Monday 22 August 2016 calling on the Minister to attend at their offices on Thursday 25 August 2016 to make a “warning statement” about two matters – the establishment of the SARS investigating unit and the early retirement and re-appointment of the Deputy Commissioner of SARS Mr 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.
The Minister immediately responded fully and comprehensively to the Hawks’ enquiry on Wednesday 24 August 2016. He did so in a comprehensive statement in which he dealt fully with the two matters raised by the Hawks. He concluded his statement by saying that‚ “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.”
The Hawks have not responded to his offer of further assistance.
The Minister also requested us to address the legal issues raised by the Hawks. We did so on the advice of senior counsel in a letter to the Hawks on 24 August 2016. We made the point that‚ on any version of the facts‚ the assertions of law on which the Hawks based their accusations against the Minister were wholly unfounded and indeed scurrilous. The Minister however instructed us to be as helpful as possible and to offer whatever further assistance the Minister could provide the Hawks. Our letter made this clear: “Minister Gordhan has‚ however‚ instructed us to be as helpful as possible and to address your questions fully. We accordingly enclose a statement by the Minister giving his account of the facts relevant to the matters raised in your letter. He has asked us to address the assertions of law made in your letter. We do so below.
Minister Gordhan is unable to meet with Brigadier Xaba at 14h00 on Thursday 25 August 2016. He in any event has no more to say about the matters raised in your letter under reply. If you require further information‚ however‚ you are welcome to approach us again because the Minister has instructed us to assist wherever we can.”
The Hawks again did not respond to this invitation.
The Minister decided not to go to the Hawks’ offices as they had requested for a range of good reasons. The first was that he was not by law required to do so. A “warning statement” is merely an opportunity afforded to a suspect to give his or her side of the story. But it is entirely optional. 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.
It was in the second place absurd to invite the Minister to make a “warning statement”. He had already given a full account of his side of the story. He had repeatedly offered to provide the Hawks with whatever else they might wish to know. It would thus have been absurd to warn him that he had a right to remain silent and to ask him whether he had anything to say about the charges against him.
Third‚ the Minister was due to attend the funeral of a friend and comrade‚ Reverend Makhenkesi Stofile‚ in the Eastern Cape on Thursday 25 August 2016. He was thus unable to meet with the Hawks on that day.
Fourth‚ there was moreover another worrying feature of the manner in which the Hawks handled this 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. Shortly after they had issued their letter‚ it was released to the media and triggered much speculation that the Minister was about to be arrested. 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 along with that agenda.
The Minister has thus scrupulously obeyed the law at all times. He has fully co-operated with the Hawks. He has repeatedly offered such further assistance as they might require. They have not responded to his repeated invitations. The Minister however again repeats his offer of assistance.