February 21, 2018 / 4:30 PM / 10 months ago

South Africa court finds finance minister violated constitution

CAPE TOWN, Feb 21 (Reuters) - A South African court has found Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba violated the constitution in statements he made about his decision to revoke his approval of a company’s bid to open a private airport immigration facility.

The judgment is the latest legal blow to a senior South African government official and came with new President Cyril Ramaphosa considering a cabinet reshuffle after replacing scandal-plagued predecessor Jacob Zuma last week.

Handed down in December, the judgment only came to public light this week. Gigaba, whose job security under Ramaphosa is unclear, said he would challenge the decision.

The judgment was issued after an application by Fireblade Aviation, a company owned by the wealthy Oppenheimer family, seeking to compel Gigaba to stick to his decision while home affairs minister to allow the firm to operate an immigration service for wealthy VIPs at Johannesburg’s main airport.

The court ruling reversed Gigaba’s decision to revoke his approval, saying that the minister had lied in having “denied ever having approved the application”.

“By telling a deliberate untruth on facts central to the decision of this case, the minister has committed a breach of the constitution so serious that I would characterise it as a violation,” the ruling read.

Speaking to the media in Cape Town ahead of his budget speech to parliament, Gigaba said: “My lawyers are studying the judgment and we will respond to it in due time...It’s important to highlight that the decision of the court is being challenged.”

The Democratic Alliance (DA), the official opposition party, said that based on the judgment, it had filed a complaint against Gigaba with the Public Protector, South Africa’s constitutionally-mandated anti-graft watchdog. (Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; writing by Ed Stoddard; editing by James Macharia and Mark Heinrich)

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