South African finance minister to miss police deadline in spy unit case


South Africa’s finance minister will miss a Wednesday deadline set by police to answer questions on his role in the setting up of a spy unit at the revenue service because he was busy preparing the country’s budget, his lawyers said.

South Africa’s rand currency fell nearly 4 percent, its biggest daily loss since 2011, after the minister, Pravin Gordhan, said on Friday there were attempts to discredit him and the integrity of the Treasury through the probe.

The rand fell further after South African media speculated that Gordhan had fallen out of favour with President Jacob Zuma. The president on Monday rejected claims that he was at war with Gordhan, helping the currency to recover.

In a letter from his lawyers, Gordhan said he had received the questions from the elite police unit Hawks at a time when he was preparing his budget speech, which he delivered on Feb. 24.

The police are investigating the spy unit at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for conducting illegal surveillance on taxpayers. Gordhan headed SARS when the unit was set up but says he has no case to answer.

Asked in parliament whether he was feuding with Zuma, Gordhan said there was no conflict with the president.
“How do you have a war with your employer? We talk every day, work every day,” Gordhan said.
“I’m still here and the key is to ensure that we create the right climate … in order that we can say to the 55 million people in South Africa that we are working for their interests.”

The letter from his lawyers said Gordhan would respond to the police questions at a later date, “once he has properly examined the questions and ascertained what information … he is able to provide”.
“On what authority do you rely on directing these questions to the Honourable Minister? Are you investigating any offence? If so, what is it?” the letter asked.

Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko told reporters on Wednesday that the questions put to Gordhan did not mean the finance minister was under investigation for any crime or that he would be charged.