FINANCE Minister Pravin Gordhan on Friday said demand by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) that he answer three pages of questions was an attempt to intimidate him and that he was ready to go to court to protect his own reputation and that of national treasury.
“I want to publicly state my version of events in relation to a letter I received from the Hawks on Thursday 18 February 2016, informing me that I must answer three pages of questions, keep the letter confidential and not interfere with ‘state witnesses’, without indicating who such witnesses are,” Gordhan said in statement.
“I believe this was meant to intimidate and distract us from the work that we had to do to prepare the 2016 Budget.”
Gordhan added that he could categorically state that the elite unit that has been probing claims that a rogue intelligence unit operated within the South African Revenue Service, had no reason to investigate him and that he was prepared to go to court to protect his integrity and that of the national treasury.
SARS commissioner Tom Moyane has for 18 months maintained that an illicit spying unit was set up on Gordhan’s watch. The minister furiously denied this in a a statement last year, but the two have been headed for a clash on the matter since Gordhan’s return to Treasury in December.
“If necessary, I will take appropriate legal action to protect myself and the National Treasury from whatever elements seeking to discredit me, the institution and its integrity,” Gordhan said.
He added that he deliberately made no public statement about the letter from the Hawks while he was preparing the 2016 budget, seen as critical to getting the country’s economy back on an even keel.
“My intention was to ensure that nothing would jeopardise government’s reaction to the Budget and our efforts to create a better climate for investors.”
However, he said, he was compelled to speak on the matter because it was “maliciously” leaked to the media.
On Budget Day on Wednesday, Gordhan made little attempt to hide tensions between him and Moyane and on Friday morning, he drew a line in the sand with the SARS commissioner.
He told a PwC function that Moyane’s “defiance” and reluctance to “account to the new minister” was suspicious.
ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe issued a statement on Friday morning praising Gordhan for his efforts to stabilise the economy and also criticising the letter from the Hawks as seeking to undermine the minister. – ANA