11 August 2013

South Africa: Turok Under Protection

Cape Town — Senior ANC MP Ben Turok said on Sunday that he had been assigned bodyguards after a man claimed he was asked to kill parliamentarians probing misconduct allegations against fired communications minister Dina Pule.

"The head of Parliament's security came to see me and told me about the threats... we were in the middle of the hearings," said Turok, who co-chairs the legislature's ethics committee.

"It is a pretty miserable affair," he added.

Turok said he only became aware of the full extent of the threats when the Sunday Times contacted him this week for comment. The newspaper asked him about claims made by a man that Pule's companion, Phosane Mngqibisa, had asked him to assassinate Turok and Parliament's registrar of members' interests Fazela Mohamed.

"I did not know the details until the Sunday Times phoned me," he said.

Turok said further claims of intimidation had emerged since a nine-member panel member, headed by himself, found Pule guilty of misconduct. It announced on Wednesday that Pule "wilfully misled" the ethics committee by denying her romantic involvement with Mngqibisa.

It found she failed to declare that Mngqibisa had benefited materially from the sponsorship of last year's information and communications technology event, the ICT Indaba, which her department hosted in Cape Town.

The ethics panel recommended that police and prosecuting authorities should further investigate Pule's breach of Parliament's rules.

"Three witnesses have been intimidated. I know one is a senior official in the department who says that she has been harassed," he said.

Police spokesman Solomon Makgale said police launched an investigation into the claims immediately after they were informed of these by Parliament's head of security, Zelda Holtzman. He said so far the ongoing probe had not uncovered evidence of a plot to harm the ethics panel members.

"Our analysis thus far does not indicate any threats on the members of the panel. Also, there is no information or evidence at this stage which suggests the involvement of any particular person or persons with regard to the alleged threats. But we must highlight that these threats are taken seriously and we will continue with our analysis," Makgale said.

He confirmed that the police had interviewed the man who told the Sunday Times he had been asked, but refused, to carry out a hit on Turok to prevent him attending the panel's final sitting.

"We interviewed a number of people including the person who claims to have first hand information regarding the security threat allegations," Makgale said.

"So far, this person has proven to be very unco-operative and not credible. He makes allegations which he cannot corroborate.

Notwithstanding, we conducted our own independent investigation regarding the threats."

Turok said he remained under the protection of bodyguards, and it was up to the police to decide for how long this was necessary.

Makgale said Turok had written to national police commissioner Riah Phiyega to ask for her help.

Turok said during the ethics panel's investigation, members became uncomfortable when Mngqibisa arrived at Parliament with private security, which the legislature did not allow.

The probe dealt with claims that Mngqibisa's company received millions in management fees related to the ICT Indaba, and that Pule flew him around the world at taxpayer's expense.

Turok reiterated that he found Pule's attitude towards the panel regrettable.

"If Pule had been honest, if she had done what Vavi did, and said 'I'm only human', things could have been different," he said.

He was referring to Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi admitting recently that he had sex with a junior colleague at the trade union federation's head office.

Turok added that the former minister did not refute the evidence against her but sought instead to question the integrity of the witnesses.

"Pule did not contest the facts. It was quite remarkable. What she did do was to try to question the integrity of the witnesses. Two gave very strong evidence. She did not contest the evidence."

He said this made him convinced the matter should be handed to the police for investigation.

The ANC Chief Whip's office expressed "serious concern" about the threats. It commended Parliament for putting the appropriate security measures in place, spokesman Moloto Mothapo said in a statement.

"It is outrageous that there are criminal elements within our society who think they wield some kind of power to bully such an important institution of our constitutional democracy into submission," he said in a statement.

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