South Africa’s elite Hawks police unit denied on Sunday a report that an investigation involving Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which has helped to weaken the rand, has been transferred to another part of the force.
Citing an unnamed source, the City Press newspaper said the police crime intelligence unit had taken over the inquiry into a surveillance body formed at the national tax agency SARS when it was run by Gordhan between 1999 and 2009.
The Hawks, which are responsible for tackling organised and commercial crime plus serious corruption, have previously said they were running the inquiry but that Gordhan was not being personally targetted.
On Sunday, Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi repeated this denial, and dismissed the City Press report. “There is no investigation against the minister, the investigation is only on the spy unit at SARS. It is not correct that the crime intelligence unit is handling the case,” Mulaudzi told Reuters.
Gordhan has been embroiled in the investigation and an accompanying political row at a time when South Africa faces a possible downgrading of its credit rating.
Standard and Poor’s, which ranks Africa’s most industrialised country just one step above subinvestment grade, is due to make public its rating decision on Friday.
Gordhan has said rival credit rating agency Fitch will also announce the result of its review of South Africa on June 8. Policymakers fear the country, whose economy is expected to grow by less than one percent this year, may be headed to “junk’ status, an outcome that would increase its borrowing costs.
On Friday, the presidency said in a statement that President Jacob Zuma is not “at war” with Gordhan over the control of the National Treasury, in response to widespread media reports.
The City Press cited an unnamed senior crime intelligence commander as saying his police unit was now involved in the inquiry because it had “better resources and capacity, and a larger network of informants”.
The commander added that the Hawks were “not making sufficient progress” in the case of the spy unit, which was set up to tackle organised crime and illicit revenues.
The crime intelligence unit is authorised to use surveillance and conduct undercover operations, such as infiltrating crime syndicates.
On May 15, the Sunday Times newspaper reported that Gordhan faced imminent arrest, sending the rand tumbling to a two-month low, despite denials by the presidency and the police.