South African prosecutor says Gordhan can submit for a review over fraud charges

October 12, 2016 12:18 PM EDT

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan gestures during his address at a business summit in Sandton, South Africa, September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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By Wendell Roelf

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa's state prosecutor said on Wednesday that Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan could ask for a review of a decision to charge him with fraud, a case that is part of a long-running row surrounding the minister.

The comments from Shaun Abrahams, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, pushed the rand firmer. Gordhan is well regarded by investors and business people.

Abrahams had said on Tuesday that Gordhan, in his previous role as head of the South African Revenue Service (SARS), cost the tax agency about 1.1 million rand ($79,000) by approving early retirement for a deputy commissioner in 2010 and re-hiring him as a consultant.

Gordhan was issued with a formal summons to appear in court on Nov. 2 over fraud charges.

On Wednesday, Abrahams said he was willing to review the matter if somebody requested that he do so.

"Now, Minister Pravin Gordhan can submit representations to me and ask me to review that matter and I would certainly look into the matter," he told a parliamentary briefing in Cape Town.

Analysts have said that Gordhan has been a target of political pressure from a faction allied to President Jacob Zuma, who has denied any rifts with the finance minister.

The perceived tussle between Zuma and Gordhan has rattled markets in Africa's most industrialized economy, which faces the risk of ratings downgrades later this year. The opposition has called the investigation on Gordhan a "witch-hunt".

Gordhan has said he would remain in his post despite the court summons. He has denied the allegations, saying they are part of a politically motivated campaign against him.

The National Prosecuting Authority has been criticized by some analysts for announcing its plans to charge Gordhan for fraud just two weeks before he is due to outline plans to kick-start the economy and avert possible credit rating cuts to "junk".

The rand firmed more than 2 percent in response to Abrahams comments, before parings some of its gains. The currency fell more than 4 percent on Tuesday on news Gordhan had been summoned to court.

Abrahams said "I don't think we must jump the gun" on whether Gordhan could also face charges about the legality of a surveillance unit he set up at the tax department a decade ago that is suspected of spying on politicians including Zuma.

Abrahams said the NPA was still investigating this issue and will decide whether or not to press charges at the conclusion of the probe, but did not provide a timeline for completion.

Previously finance minister from 2009 to 2014, Gordhan was recalled to the post to stem a selloff in South African assets after Zuma abruptly replaced finance minister Nhlanhla Nene with an unknown politician in December.

He and central bank governor Lesetja Kganyago have since worked hard to reassure investors that economic policy remains free from political interference. Prosecuting Gordhan could undo those efforts, South African business leaders have said.

(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Angus MacSwan)



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