JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Wednesday his relations with President Jacob Zuma were very good and he was hard at work preparing a budget policy speech to be delivered next week.
Gordhan is facing charges that, while running the tax agency, he fraudulently approved early retirement for a deputy commissioner and re-hired him as a consultant, costing the tax agency around 1.1 million rand ($79,000) - accusations the minister has said are politically motivated.
Analysts and supporters of Gordhan, whose first court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 2, say the charges could be a ploy by Zuma allies to discredit him.
The president has said he is not in conflict with Gordhan, and on Tuesday backed the minister’s efforts to revive the economy.
“He is my president so I have to have very good relations with him,” Gordhan told reporters after a speech to trade union leaders in which he said South Africa was making progress towards preventing a sovereign credit downgrade.
“Everything is fine, we are busy preparing for the medium-term budget policy statement.” Gordhan said.
The minister has also described the fraud charges as frivolous and said he intended to continue in his job.
Investors have been worried that Gordhan, seen by markets as a safeguard of stability, could lose his job, impeding efforts to revive sluggish economic growth and prevent a downgrade to junk status.
Gordhan is facing further legal wrangles after Oakbay Investments said on Wednesday it would oppose a court application from him linking the firm and its owners, who have close ties to Zuma, to suspicious transactions.
Gordhan said in a court affidavit on Friday that 6.8 billion rand ($491 million) in payments made by three Indian-born businessmen - Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta - and companies they control and other individuals with the same surname had been reported to authorities as suspicious since 2012.
A Treasury spokeswoman has said the Guptas would have to file an affidavit of their own before a court date to hear the accusation could be set.
Gordhan has for months been at odds with Zuma, partly over the alleged political influence of the Gupta brothers.
The president has denied granting undue influence to the Guptas and they have denied seeking it.
The businessmen are the subject of a report by the outgoing public protector - an anti-graft official - into allegations they influenced the appointment of ministers. The report was prevented from being made public on Friday by a High Court application by Zuma to delay its release.
The new Public Protector, lawyer Busisiwe Mkhwebane, said on Wednesday she would not release the report until Zuma’s application had been heard. That is scheduled for Nov. 1.
($1 = 13.8700 rand)
Additional reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng in Johannesburg and Wendell Roelf in Cape Town; Writing by James Macharia; editing by John Stonestreet