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Tue Aug 30 01:37:42 SAST 2016

Hawks flap, rand plummets

Graeme Hosken, Shaun Smillie and Bianca Capazorio | 16 March, 2016 00:33
Gordhan said in his response to the March 3 letter he had asked on what legislation the Hawks were basing their investigation. File photo
Image by: Ruvan Boshoff

It may not be a "talk show or a soapie", but the world is watching.

The latest salvo fired in the war between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the Hawks caused the rand to plummet yesterday - on the eve of Moody's Investor Services' critical visit to South Africa to review the country's sovereign credit rating.

The fall, which saw the currency drop to R15.97 to the dollar, happened moments after the Hawks uttered threatening words about Gordhan.

Hawks head Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza attacked Gordhan's denial that he had received a "second" letter demanding answers on a rogue intelligence unit operating within SARS.

Newly appointed Hawks oversight judge, Judge Essa Moosa, yesterday told parliament that if Gordhan felt his rights were being violated, his office would investigate his complaints.

Treasury spokesman Phumza Macanda hit back, saying the impression being created that Gordhan had received a "new letter" was totally misleading.

Macanda said: "The last letter received is dated March 3. The minister's legal representatives received it on March 4 and responded on March 7. That there is a letter that has not been responded to is factually incorrect.

"The Hawks have not responded to the minister's lawyers' representations for further clarity [requested in the letter dated March 7]."

Gordhan, she said, would have preferred to abide by the request of the Presidency and the ANC to not debate this matter publicly.

"However, once again the Hawks triggered a response because of their threatening statement."

Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the unit had noted "with concerns" utterances made by Gordhan in regard to both him and his lawyers being unable to find a "second" letter.

On Monday, Gordhan said: "I spent three hours with my attorney looking for this letter but the letter [being referred to] was the letter of March 3."

Gordhan said in his response to the March 3 letter he had asked under what legislation the Hawks were basing their investigation.

He said: "The statement says once we have that clarity we will take legal advice and do whatever is the right thing to do and no one is above the law [sic]."

Mulaudzi said: "This is neither a talk show nor a soapie. We are mandated to investigate without fear, favour or prejudice.

"The minister, for whatever reasons, has failed to meet the 'second' deadline for answering questions and our legal team are forging a way forward, which will see the Hawks exercising our constitutional powers."

Mulaudzi said on February 19 Ntlemeza sent Gordhan a letter with questions he was obliged to answer on or before March 1.

"The minister received the letter, but instead of providing us with answers he sent a written response via his legal representatives requesting more time to answer questions as he was busy preparing the Budget speech.

"The letter from his attorney was received by this office on March 1, an hour before his deadline." He said that in the letter the minister did not mention how much time he needed to answer the questions, and as a result another letter was written to his attorneys on March 3.

"It is disturbing that the minister was adamant that he never saw a letter with March 14 as his 'second' deadline to answer questions.

"This office also received a letter from his attorneys dated March 7, acknowledging the receipt of our letter with March 14 as his new deadline. The letter also stated ... the 'imposed deadline of March 14 was not achievable and that the minister would be able to respond as soon as he returned from overseas'."

Mulaudzi said the minister, through his lawyer's letter, had questioned Ntlemeza's authority.

"Had the minister, like any law-abiding citizen, complied with our letter and provided answers, we would not be where we are today."

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