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'CR17 funds are outside your jurisdiction,' Cyril Ramaphosa tells Busi Mkhwebane

President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo.
President Cyril Ramaphosa. File photo.
Image: TimesLIVE

President Cyril Ramaphosa told public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane that she did not have the jurisdiction to investigate the CR17 campaign that lobbied to have him elected as ANC president in 2017.

On Friday, Mkhwebane released her report which disregarded Ramaphosa’s responses and found adversely against him.

Ramaphosa said in response that it was unfortunate that Mkhwebane did not consider his arguments.

In a 51-page submission to Mkhwebane, Ramaphosa argued that all findings made against Ramaphosa were “wholly unfounded”.

Mkhwebane first found that Ramaphosa deliberately misled the National Assembly on November 6 last year when he was asked about a donation made to his campaign by Bosasa. Ramaphosa said this was incomprehensible because he did not know about the donation.

The public protector further found that Ramaphosa was in in breach of the provisions of the Executive Ethics Code because he deliberately misled parliament and “he should have allowed himself sufficient time to research a well-informed response”.

Ramaphosa told Mkhwebane that this finding was unfair.

“It is in any event quite unrealistice and unfair on the president to suggest that he should have allowed Mr Maimanes serious accusation to hang in the air unanswered and prolong the political harm it caused when there was absolutely no reason to do so,” his response to her read.

Mkhwebane said that even though Ramaphosa’s conduct was “ostensibily in good faith”, it was inconsistent with his office as a member of cabinet and a violation of the constitution.

Ramaphosa rejected this and argued that the public protector’s censure “of the president’s conduct in parliament in good faith would be in breach of the constitution and unlawful”.

Mkhwebane’s damning findings against Ramaphosa continued. She found that Ramaphosa violated the Executive Ethics Code and exposed himself to a conflict of interest “between his official responsibilities and his private interests” and used his position to enrich himself and his son through business owned by African Global Operations- formerly known as Bosasa.

But the president’s lawyers hit back against this finding.

“This statement is incomprehensive. The president never had any relationship with AGO. He never did anything to exploit such a relationship. He was never at any risk of any conflict of interest by virtue of such a relationship. CR17 received a donation from Mr Watson of AGO. But that was not unlawful. The president in any event did not even know about the donation,” they said to Mkhwebane.

The public protector turned to donations made to the CR17, saying that Ramaphosa materially benefited from the donations and that he was duty-bound to declare benefits he received.

But he denied personally benefiting, arguing that he himself had made a personal contribution of R200,000 towards the campaign and paid a further R1m into the account of a service provider. “The president was generally not aware of the donations except for his own donation as well as the contributions of James Motlatsi, Sfiso Dabenwa and Donne Nichol (his friends)”.

Mkhwebane went on to say that she had evidence that some money collected through the CR17 campaign trust account was also transferred into the Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation account and was then transferred to other beneficiaries.

Ramaphosa insisted through his lawyers that Mkhwebane did not have the jurisdiction to investigate the CR17 campaign and to make any findings in relation to it. “The entire investigation into CR17 and its activities is unlawful,” he argued.

They further insisted that the president was never obliged to disclose the donations made to CR17.

“The donations were made to CR17 and not him. It owned the money and he did not. He never received any of it. The money was spent on the campaign for his election but that was not only his cause,” Ramaphosa’s lawyers said to Mkhwebane.

She further found that there was merit to suspicions of money laundering in the way Bosasa boss Gavin Watson donated to the CR17 campaign.

“I have taken into account the facts as well as prima facie evidence before me, I am therefore of the view that there is merit to the allegation relating to the suspicion of money laundering as alluded to in the complaint lodged with my office,” Mkhwebane found.

But Ramaphosa’s lawyers said the public protector owed it to Ramaphosa to make it clear that any suspicion of money laundering did not implicate him in CR17 in any way. “To suggest that they were in some way complicit in money laundering would be an unlawful and wholly unjustified slur.”

Mkhwebane said she had considered Ramaphosa’s responses but stuck to her findings. The presidency said he would apply his mind to the report and decide on a way forward.

Early indications pointed to Ramaphosa taking Mkhwebane’s findings on judicial review. 

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