March 8, 2018 / 1:04 PM / in 9 months

Senior South African MP says believes politics delayed Gupta case

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - A South African lawmaker leading an investigation into accusations that businessmen used links with ex-president Jacob Zuma to win contracts said on Thursday he suspected prosecutors had delayed taking action over the case for political reasons.

FILE PHOTO: President of South Africa Jacob Zuma gestures to his supporters at the 54th National Conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa December 16, 2017. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/File photo

Mathole Motshekga said most members of the parliamentary investigative committee he chaired believed the state prosecution service had held up the case until it was sure Zuma would not be replaced by a close ally in a party leadership election in December.

“This is a very serious matter. It would mean people were serving political interests rather than serving the public,” he said.

The head of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Shaun Abrahams, dismissed Motshekga’s assertion on Thursday, telling Reuters: “There was no political influence whatsoever. There’s no evidence to that effect.”

Zuma resigned last month, ending nine scandal-plagued years in power overshadowed by accusations by opposition politicians that his businessmen friends the Gupta brothers had used their link with him to win millions of dollars of state contracts.

Both Zuma and the Guptas have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Zuma was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa who promised to fight corruption. Ramaphosa had already become the leader of the ruling African National Congress party after narrowly defeating Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, in December.

DAIRY CASE RAID

On the same day as Zuma’s resignation, police raided a Gupta family home in a case relating to a state-funded dairy farm that prosecutors say was a front to extract millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money.

That first raid connected to the case happened almost five years after the first allegations of wrongdoing in the dairy farm contract appeared in South African media.

Motshekga’s parliamentary committee which is investigating the Gupta case questioned Abrahams of the National Prosecuting Authority on Wednesday about why it took so long to investigate the case.

Motshekga told Reuters on Thursday that - after hearing Abrahams’ testimony - the committee believed there were political motives behind the delay in taking action over the dairy farm.

“This was the view of the majority of members of the committee,” Motshekga said.

Motshekga said the Hawks - an elite police unit - told the committee it gave the NPA crime documents including evidence related to the case in October last year but the NPA took no action.

Abrahams told the committee the documents were incomplete, hence the delay.

But Motshekga said committee members suspected the NPA was waiting for the result of an ANC leadership contest.

“It raises suspicions that if there had been a different outcome in that ANC conference then information would have been suppressed,” Motshekga said.

Separately, an elite police unit conducted “a search and seizure operation” at the offices of Supra Mahumapelo, premier of the North West province, the government information service said. Mahumapelo is a Zuma ally.

“The operation follows investigations in relation to alleged maladministration, fraud and corruption. The monetary value involved is approximately 160 million rand ($13.4 million),” the service said.

No one in Supra Mahumapelo’s office was immediately available for comment.

($1 = 11.8838 rand)

Reporting by Joe Brock; Additional reporting by Ed Cropley and Ed Stoddard; Editing by Andrew Heavens

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