South Africa's Zuma asks watchdog to delay report on his business ties

October 10, 2016 11:36 AM EDT

President Jacob Zuma speaks during his question and answer session in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, September 13, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings


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By Nqobile Dludla

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma, under scrutiny for his friendship with a wealthy business family, has asked an anti-corruption watchdog not to report her findings until he has had a chance to question other witnesses, his office said on Monday.

Public Protector Thuli Madonsela is due to release her findings by Friday, the day before her seven-year term comes to an end. She questioned Zuma for four hours last Thursday over allegations his business friends, the Gupta family, had influenced political appointments.

Despite denials by Zuma and the Guptas, the affair has damaged the president, who was separately forced to repay part of the cost of a lavish upgrade to his private residence as a result of an investigation by Madonsela.

The presidency said in a statement that Zuma had asked Madonsela's office to confirm by Tuesday that it would not conclude the current investigation and issue any report until he was given a chance to question the witnesses involved.

"The President would want to exercise his right to question some of the witnesses before responding to the written questions and adducing evidence," it said, adding that Zuma wanted to be assisted by a legal representative.

Zuma will testify after speaking to witnesses and reviewing any evidence that implicated him in the matter, the presidency added.

The Public Protector's office said in a statement that Zuma was given copies of the evidence implicating him on Oct. 1 and that a letter has been prepared to advise the president to submit any questions to be put to witnesses on his behalf.

Madonsela's office also queried why Zuma had still not testified.

"It is of concern to the Public Protector that the President has on two occasions undertaken to answer questions and when the time rose, he changed his mind," the statement said.

"She ... believes it is in the interest of public trust that the matter be concluded expeditiously."

The anti-corruption office said Zuma had been free to provide his evidence since March 22.

Madonsela spoke to Zuma and his lawyers behind closed doors last week about the allegations that the Guptas had played a role in selecting cabinet members and used their relationship with the president to gain favor in terms of government tenders, payments and licenses.

Her office said that for most of the four hours of questioning, the president's lawyers argued that the probe should be deferred to her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.

The Guptas, who moved to South Africa from India after apartheid fell in 1994, run businesses ranging from uranium and coal mining to media and information technology.

(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by James Macharia, Mark Trevelyan and Hugh Lawson)



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