A report by a global anti-corruption journalism organisation has revealed that Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane received a $5000 (roughly R70 000) payment linked to a broader network involving the Gupta family, in 2014, but in a statement issued late on Tuesday, Mkhwebane dismissed the OCCRP report as "malicious and defamatory".
The Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) reported on Tuesday the payment to Mkhwebane was flagged by multi-national bank HSBC as part of the bank's broader internal investigation into Gupta linked entities.
There is no indication of wrongdoing by Mkhwebane, but the payment is part of thousands of transactions the bank noticed as part of a broader investigation into kickbacks from China North Rail (CNR), that was awarded large tranches of the infamous R50bn 1064 locomotive deal by Transnet.
In her 900-word statement, Mkhwebane slammed the report and expressed her view that the story was part of a series of events that were an orchestrated campaign and concerted effort in political circles, civil society and the media to discredit her "merely because she has been able to muster enough courage to hold those seen as 'untouchable' to account".
According to the OCCRP report, the funds were paid from an account of an HSBC subsidiary in Hong Kong directly into Mkhwebane's First National Bank account in South Africa in June 2014, at the height of the Gupta's state capture reign.
The payment occurred shortly before Mkhwebane returned from China, where she worked at the SA embassy as the National Immigration Services' country director of information and cooperative management, according to her CV, between 2010 and July 2014.
In her statement, Mkhwebane highlighted that in its request for comment, OCCRP stated "there is no indication that the source of the funds were from the Gupta network, simply that she was flagged as part of it by the bank".
Mkhwebane also states she was not informed that she was supposedly "flagged" by HSBC.
The remaining 700 words of the statement were used to rail against "dirty tricks from some figures and their allies in civil society, political circles and in the media".
The OCCRP report, Mkhwebane said, was part of this onslaught.
As evidence of this, Mkhwebane cited the following:
- She was made aware that a "certain politician" was "pushing for her arrest on the false claims that she was involved in the passing of her husband and money laundering". She learned of these claims through questions posed by a Sunday newspaper. Mkhwebane stated that her late husband had taken his own life and had suffered from depression.
- "A source subsequently indicated to Adv. Mkhwebane that foreign expertise had been brought into the country to look into her bank accounts and the circumstances surrounding the passing of her husband."
She then referenced two unpublished stories relating to allegations she had given former North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo a watch, and that she was seen speaking with former SARS commissioner Tom Moyane at his wife's flower shop in Centurion.
The allegations were not published following responses from her office.
She further referenced an article published by News24 relating to a complaint laid by the DA against ANC MP and former state security minister Bongani Bongo, which was later corrected after it emerged the DA had in fact not laid a complaint with the Public Protector, despite issuing a statement in 2017 saying it would.
She also referenced stories published surrounding a picture that emerged of Carl Niehaus meeting a person with a striking resemblance to her.
"She [Mkhwebane] will not be discouraged. Instead, these attacks give her strength to discharge her functions with renewed vigour, without fear, favour or prejudice," the statement concluded.