Gordhan defends Hawks no-show

Minister hits back as talk of imminent arrest increases

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last night defended his conduct in the Hawks probe against him‚ saying through his attorney that he had not responded to the special unit because he was not required to do so by law.

The request was absurd and he was not prepared to play along with the unit’s attempt to humiliate him, a statement said.

It was released as speculation reached fever pitch in political circles that Gordhan’s arrest was imminent ahead of his departure for the Group of 20 meeting in China, scheduled to begin on Sunday.

But National Prosecuting Authority head Shaun Abrahams said last night no decision had yet been taken and he was not prepared to comment further.

Gordhan’s lawyer, Tebogo Malatji, said the minister had opted not to present himself to the Hawks “for many good reasons”.

First‚ he was not required by law 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,” Malatji said.

“The ‘warning’ from which the statement derives its name is indeed a warning to the suspect that he has the right to remain silent.”

Malatji said that it was “absurd” to ask Gordhan to present himself when he had already provided a full account of his side of the story to the Hawks in May.

The Hawks had also not notified the minister he was a suspect, and had issued their notice requesting that he hand over a warning statement “out of the blue”.

The letter was then released to the media‚ a move which had triggered speculation that the minister would 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‚” Malatji said.

In a separate development‚ it emerged that the cabinet would announce a new board for South African Airways (SAA) today and that Zuma’s close friend, Dudu Myeni, would continue as chairwoman.

A list of 13 names drawn up by Gordhan for the board was considered by cabinet yesterday.

The meeting was chaired by Minister in the Presidency Susan Shabangu in the absence of both Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. A total of 12 names will be sent to Zuma for ratification.

Several sources said the composition of the list indicated compromise from both Zuma and Gordhan‚ who have not seen eye to eye around the issue for several months.

It is believed that Gordhan’s hardline stance on state-owned entities‚ particularly SAA‚ and the nuclear deal is at the heart of his run-in with the Hawks.

The biggest compromise for Gordhan would be for Myeni to be reappointed.

A source‚ who has seen the list‚ said Myeni had been nominated as chairwoman‚ while former SAA chief financial officer Tryphosa Ramano was expected to be her deputy.

Another source described the list of names as a compromise, although the majority were people close to Myeni and the president.

Attempts to reach cabinet spokesman Jeff Radebe proved fruitless while Treasury referred all inquiries to the cabinet.