Paul Vecchiatto

Zuma seeks to halt release of S. Africa Ombud’s Gupta report

South African President Jacob Zuma applied for a court order to stop the publication of a preliminary report by the nation’s outgoing 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, Oct. 18, making it impossible for me to release the report before then,” Madonsela, who ends her seven-year term as public protector on Oct. 15, said in a text message. “This is the same as giving himself an interdict by default.”

Presidential spokesman Bongani Ngqulunga said the application had been filed in the High Court in Pretoria, without giving reasons given for the request. Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs David van Rooyen, who was appointed as finance minister by Zuma in December before being replaced by Pravin Gordhan five days later, also requested an interdict, which will be heard on Friday, Madonsela said in a separate text message.

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 licenses to companies linked to the family, according to Madonsela’s office.

Under Pressure

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 with Van Rooyen, at the time a little-known lawmaker. The move sparked a rand and bond rout and led to the appointment Gordhan 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.

Interviewing Witnesses

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 canceled two earlier meetings and had had sufficient time to give his testimony.

While Zuma agreed in an Oct. 6 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.”

Busisiwe Mkhwebane will succeed Madonsela as ombudsman.