Abrahams ready to answer Gordhan's claims at Zondo inquiry
Minister has suggested in evidence that political motives were at play in the decision to pursue charges against him
Former national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams says he is “ready and willing” to testify at the Zondo commission of inquiry to dispute public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan’s evidence that his fraud prosecution was malicious and politically motivated.
The Zondo inquiry into state capture has confirmed that Abrahams has been served with a formal notice that he is implicated by Gordhan’s testimony, and invited him to respond to allegations that he was involved in a prosecution that was baseless and driven solely by a desire to remove Gordhan from his then position as finance minister.
Abrahams told Business Day he disputes the allegations “in the strongest sense”.
The subject matter of that aborted prosecution attempt, which was related to an early retirement payout given in 2010 to then SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Ivan Pillay, is under investigation by public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who subpoenaed Gordhan to answer questions about the payout.
Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwa, told Business Day that Gordhan had a "cordial" and "helpful" two-hour meeting with Mkhwebane on Wednesday and that the investigation continues.
Gordhan believes Mkhwebane’s controversial investigation is an abuse of public powers, aimed at undoing the work to clean up the government and "recapture" the state.
In his testimony to the inquiry, which is scheduled for Monday, Gordhan will detail how Abrahams announced that he, Pillay and another former Sars commissioner, Oupa Magashule, would be charged in October 2016 with fraud, related to Pillay’s early retirement payout. The announcement sent the rand tanking by 3.4%.
A day before that announcement, Abrahams had reportedly met with then president Jacob Zuma, justice minister Michael Masutha, former social development minister Bathabile Dlamini and former state security minister David Mahlobo at Luthuli House. Abrahams has repeatedly claimed that this meeting was held in connection with the security cluster’s response to ongoing violent student protests, but Gordhan says it was “unusual” that the ministers of police, higher education and himself (as finance minister) were not at that meeting.
Days later, Abrahams announced at a press conference that he had reviewed and overturned the decision to charge Gordhan, Pillay and Magashule.
It emerged during that press conference that Gordhan and his colleagues had sought and obtained legal advice on whether the payout could be given to Pillay and had been assured, according to documentation that the National Prosecuting Authority had apparently not seen, that it was. As a consequence, Abrahams stated, it could not be argued that the men had criminal intent and had deliberately broken the law. The case could therefore not stand, he said at the time.