Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found that President Cyril Ramaphosa “deliberately” misled parliament about an R500,000 donation he received from Gavin Watson, the CEO of the corruption accused Bosasa group.
She also found that there is “merit” to suspicions that the way the money was paid amounted to money-laundering.
Mkhwebane decided to refer the money-laundering allegations to National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi to “conduct further investigation into the prima facie evidence of money-laundering as uncovered during with my investigation, and deal with it accordingly”.
Mkhwebane found that Ramaphosa “should have allowed himself sufficient time to research a well-informed response” to questions from DA leader Mmusi Maimane in parliament last year about that payment, which he initially claimed had been made to his son Andile.
Days later Ramaphosa wrote to then speaker Baleka Mbete and admitted he was wrong, and that the money was actually a donation to his election campaign.
Mkhwebane said it was a “concern” that he had given a “heat of the moment” response to Maimane’s question.
“I, therefore, find President Ramaphosa’s conduct as referred to above, although ostensibly in good faith, to be inconsistent with his office as a member of cabinet and therefore a violation of section 96(1) of the constitution,” she said.
Mkhwebane has also found that the allegation that Ramaphosa exposed himself to “the risk of a conflict between his official duties and his private interest or used his position to enrich himself and his son through businesses owned by African Global Operations [formerly trading as Bosasa], is substantiated”.
She said Ramaphosa was “duty-bound” to declare the “financial benefit” he had received as a result of donations to his internal ANC election campaign, including the money he received from Bosasa, and said his failure to do so amounted to a breach of the executive ethics code.
Mkhwebane ordered the speaker of parliament Thandi Modise to “demand publication of all donations received by President Ramaphosa because as he was the then deputy president, he is bound to declare such financial interests into the members’ ... interests register in the spirit of accountability and transparency”.
Ramaphosa had argued that the donation related to an internal party election, and nothing to do with MPs in their official capacity or in the performance of their duties. He further contended that there was currently no legal requirement for people contesting internal party elections to reveal who their donors were. He also stressed that he did not know who his donors were as well.
Mkhwebane was unconvinced, finding that individual party members “cannot seek refuge behind the political party activity label as they should comply with the applicable ethical codes of conduct”.
“In any reasonable person’s opinion, it is expected of the president to have interrogated the source of these donations”.