Lawyers for President Cyril Ramaphosa have asked the Gauteng High Court to seal financial records held by the Public Protector’s Office because they were obtained unlawfully, according to a Reuters report.
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said in July that Ramaphosa had “deliberately misled” parliament about a R500,000 rand donation he received for his CR17 campaign to become leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC).
Mkhwebane’s report found Ramaphosa had violated the executive ethics code and said there was prima facie evidence of money laundering in his campaign’s handling of donations.
Ramaphosa’s lawyer, Peter Harris, reportedly said in a letter to deputy judge president Aubrey Ledwaba Thursday that Mkhwebane’s report had been based on information obtained illegally and which should not be made public.
“We submit that the bank statements of EFFG2, Linked Environmental Services, Ria Tenda Trust and the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation accounts contain confidential information which must be protected in terms of the abovementioned provision,” Harris was quoted as saying.
“We have reason to believe that certain of the abovementioned documents may have been unlawfully obtained by the public protector.”
In her report, Mkhwebane said she used copies of subpoenas to FNB bank, Absa bank and key individuals, as well as copies of affidavits and letters, among key sources of information.
She will submit records of her investigation or all evidence she relied on for the report’s conclusions by 15 August, her spokesman Oupa Segalwe said.
“At this stage she is unable to comment on the letter from the President’s attorneys (which was shared with her attorneys last night) especially since it is addressed to the Deputy Judge President and not to her,” he said.
“The public protector conducted the investigation by the book. There was no unlawful activity,” Segalwe emphasized.
The presidency was not immediately available for comment.
Ramaphosa has said he will urgently challenge the report, which he says is flawed. But it is still a headache for the president, who has staked his reputation on cleaning up deep-rooted corruption and reviving Africa’s most developed economy.
Mkhwebane’s office had said she stands by the report and will seek to assist the courts in arriving at the “correct conclusion” by defending it.
The public protector has authority enshrined in the constitution to investigate alleged wrongdoing by public officials and her binding rulings can have far-reaching consequences.
Mkhwebane has recently lost three high-profile court cases, however, including one against Ramaphosa, potentially undermining the credibility of her investigations.
Ramaphosa’s backers say Mkhwebane is acting as a proxy for a rival faction in the ruling African National Congress party aligned with former president Jacob Zuma.
She denies the charge, saying she is simply holding senior officials to account, complaining of a smear campaign against her.
She is due to appear before Parliament’s justice committee later this month following a motion submitted by the DA that questioning her suitability to hold office.