South African finance minister refuses to quit in fraud scandal

Jacob Zuma backs Pravin Gordhan, who claims charges are politically motivated

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister: many South Africans believe President Jacob Zuma and his allies are behind the charges. Photograph:  Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s finance minister: many South Africans believe President Jacob Zuma and his allies are behind the charges. Photograph: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

 

South African president Jacob Zuma and numerous local stakeholders have come out in support of embattled finance minister Pravin Gordhan, who is refusing to stand down following his summons to court to face fraud charges.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams announced on Tuesday that Mr Gordhan, his former South Africa Revenue Service (Sars) deputy Ivan Pillay, and former Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula, would face a charge of fraud relating to an alleged irregular €72,000 early retirement pay-out to Mr Pillay in 2010.

The decision to charge Mr Gordhan has been widely criticised. Many commentators and political insiders believe the allegations against the three men are politically motivated and designed to sideline the finance minister from participating in the national treasury’s corruption investigations.

Mr Abrahams has denied his office was influenced by outside forces when deciding to bring the charges, saying he had to issue the summons given the evidence before the NPA, as no one was above the law.

However, Mr Gordhan’s legal team insisted that the issues around the pension pay-out were of an administrative – not criminal – nature. “It is quite clear that these legal proceedings are contaminated by abuse for political ends.”

The summons has come as Mr Gordhan is preparing to deliver an important mid-term budget on October 26th, which many hope will help to placate investors and international rating agencies. The latter have South Africa’s credit ratings pegged one or two levels above junk status, and are threatening a downgrade.

In his statement issued on Tuesday evening, Mr Gordhan said that he “wishes to assure South African citizens that he will continue to serve the country as long as called to do so by the president”.

Zuma backing

Mr Zuma has also publicly supported his finance minister since the charges were made, stating his cabinet colleague was innocent until proven guilty.

“The president has reaffirmed his support for the minister and added that the decision by the NPA came at the most sensitive time for the country when Minister Gordhan was successfully leading initiatives towards economic revival, bringing together business, government and labour in efforts to reignite growth so that jobs can be saved and created,” his office said.

But many South Africans believe the nation’s first citizen and his allies are the hidden political hands that directed the NPA to lay the charges, as Mr Gordhan has clashed with many of them since he was appointed finance minister in December last year.

Numerous anti-apartheid heroes from the African National Congress party have given their public support to Mr Gordhan, and have vowed to accompany him to court on November 2nd in a show of solidarity. So too have opposition parties and private sector business organisations.