South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has been contacted by police, a Treasury spokeswoman confirmed on Tuesday, after a media report said he had been summoned by an elite police investigation unit and may face charges.
The Hawks police division is investigating a tax surveillance unit within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) set up in 2007 when Gordhan was the commissioner of the revenue authority.
Gordhan and four officials at SARS have been asked to report to the Hawks on Thursday morning where they will receiving a ‘warning statement’ given to an accused person before they are charged with an offence, news website Daily Maverick said.
“Indeed minister received correspondence from the Hawks yesterday. He’s currently taking legal advice and therefore reserving comment at this stage,” Treasury spokeswoman Phumza Macanda said in response to questions from Reuters.
The rand fell nearly three percent after the story was published and was two percent weaker by 1629 GMT. “The currency is taking a serious view on this,” political analyst Gary van Staden said.
“The mere suggestion, true or false, that there is a campaign against Gordhan will bring dire financial and economic consequences.”
Local media reports in May said Gordhan may face arrest on espionage charges for setting up the unit to spy on politicians including President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma spooked investors in December by replacing then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with relatively unknown lawmaker David van Rooyen. After markets tumbled, Zuma sacked van Rooyen and appointed Gordhan, in his second stint in the job.
Zuma has rejected allegations by opposition parties that he has failed to publicly back Gordhan, saying that the law should take its course.
Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said he knew nothing about the report. In May, Mulaudzi said Gordhan was not a suspect and that police were not singling out the finance minister in their investigation of the surveillance unit.
Gordhan, who headed SARS from 1999 to 2009, has said the unit set up at the tax agency was lawful.
Gordhan said last week that a previous newspaper report of his imminent arrest was an attack on the Treasury.