President Jacob Zuma applied for a court order to stop the publication of a preliminary report by the nation’s graft ombudsman on the alleged influence of the Gupta family in government affairs, public protector Thuli Madonsela said.
“He has applied for a court hearing on the interdict for Tuesday, 18 October, making it impossible for me to release the report before then,” Madonsela said in a text message. “This is the same as giving himself an interdict by default.”
Madonsela, who ends her seven-year term as public protector on 15 October, didn’t say where Zuma had lodged the application. Presidential spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said the application had been filed in the high court in Pretoria, without giving reasons given for the request. Busisiwe Mkhwebane succeeds Madonsela as ombudsman.
The public protector’s investigation relates to the dismissal and appointment of cabinet ministers and board members and directors of state-owned companies and possibly corrupt influence in the awarding of state contracts and licences to companies linked to the family, according to Madonsela’s office.
Zuma has come under pressure to explain his relationship with the Guptas, who he says are friends and are in business with his son, after current and former government officials claimed the family tried to influence their decisions. The controversy around the family prompted the nation’s largest banks to close accounts belonging to companies owned by the Guptas. Both Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.
Deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said in March that members of the family offered him the post of finance minister before Nhlanhla Nene was fired from the position and replaced by a little-known lawmaker in December. The move sparked a rand and bond rout and led to the appointment of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister after business and political leaders intervened.
The public protector’s office was consulting its legal team on how to respond to the application, spokesman Oupa Segalwe said by text message.
Zuma this week requested permission to question witnesses who Madonsela had interviewed and to be allowed to present his evidence before the report was published. She responded that the president had cancelled two earlier meetings and had had sufficient time to give his testimony.
While Zuma agreed in a 6 October meeting with Madonsela to answer a set of questions through an affidavit, he described the public protector saying that she’s in a “hurry” to complete the investigation as “ill-founded”. — (c) 2016 Bloomberg LP