Shaun Abrahams: I will not be resigning as NPA head

Today the NPA boss did an about-turn on the decision to prosecute Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams addresses the media on charges being dropped against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and two former SARS employees Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula at the NPA's head office in Pretoria. Picture: Reinart Toerien/EWN

PRETORIA – The announcement by National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Shaun Abrahams that charges against the finance minister and two former Sars employees have been withdrawn is the latest twist in the Hawks investigation that has rattled financial markets.

Worries that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan could be prosecuted or even removed from his job have also increased the risk that credit rating agencies will downgrade the country to junk status later this year.

While taking questions this afternoon after the briefing, Abrahams was asked whether he was embarrassed or disappointed by the debacle. He told journalists he would not like to answer that question.

He was also asked whether he would be resigning.

Abrahams stated that he would not resign and that he did not owe anyone an apology for how this matter was handled.

He explained that since the decision to institute the prosecution, he had received representations from Magashula and Pillay, while Gordhan declined to make any submissions.

The advocate said Pillay and Magashula’s submissions included a 2009 memo from Sars legal executive Vlok Symington in which he stated there were no technical reasons preventing Pillay’s early retirement and subsequent re-appointment on a contract.

He also considered information obtained from the then acting director general of the Department of Public Works and Administration from whom the pair had sought advice.

Abrahams said there was uncertainty over whether Pillay’s early-retirement could be approved and as a result demonstrated that the accused lacked the requisite intention to act unlawfully.

He defended his initial decision to prosecute the three, saying that at the time the available evidence showed there was a case to answer to.

Abrahams also said the decision was taken by the acting head of the priority crimes litigation unit.

He also referred to the applicable law which stated that he was then entitled to review that decision.

He emphasised that Symington’s memo was not available to the prosecutor at the time of the first decision and was only produced in the representations.

'POLITICS NOT A FACTOR'

Abrahams insisted he did not pay any regard to political considerations when making prosecutorial decisions.

“The facts of the matter on paper showed there was a case to prosecute. That was what I had been briefed on.”

He said he could not have intervened in that decision.

“My powers only come into play when I have to review the decision and that is exactly what I did here.”

Abrahams insisted this case did not receive any special treatment.

“This matter was no different to any other matter. I will not pay due regard to political considerations in respect of this matter, or any other matter.”

In response to a question about the impact of this case on the country, Abrahams said this case was handled like any other case considered by the prosecuting authority.

He said the economy did not depend on one man and that it would have been wrong to have considered the political climate when making the decision.

RAND STRENGTH

The rand reacted strongly to the news that the fraud charges were being withdrawn.

After trading at about R13.80 against the US dollar when markets opened this morning, the currency strengthened to R13.58 during the announcement.

Economist Dennis Dykes says he hopes the drama involving Gordhan is gone for good.

“If you look at the rand it is probably about 10% weaker than it otherwise would have been had we not had all the political noise during the course of this last year. So to the extent that this actually does away with it [the political noise], the rand can continue rallying.”