Public Protector invokes subpoena powers in Ramaphosa farm probe

South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog said it’s invoking subpoena powers to compel President Cyril Ramaphosa to respond to its questions about a robbery at a game farm he owns.

The Public Protector announced the step after denying Ramaphosa’s request for more time to respond to questions about allegations surrounding the break-in, spokesman Oupa Segalwe said in a statement on Tuesday. Ramaphosa missed a July 18 deadline to respond to questions by the ombudsman and had requested an extension to July 22.

The subpoena powers enable the Public Protector to order Ramaphosa to submit an affidavit, appear before the body to give evidence, or to provide any document in his possession or under his control that has a bearing on the matter being investigated, Segalwe said.

“The president’s legal team is in communication with the office of the Public Protector,” Ramaphosa’s spokesman Vincent Magwenya said in response to a request for comment sent by text message. He didn’t provide further details.

The robbery at Ramaphosa’s farm in the northern Limpopo province in February 2020 was revealed last month by the former head of the State Security Agency, Arthur Fraser, who filed charges against the president for allegedly concealing the crime. Fraser claimed that $4 million dollars had been stolen and the suspects tortured.

The scandal has weakened Ramaphosa, who had been in pole position to return as president of the governing African National Congress when it holds an elective conference in December. The president has refused to answer any questions about the game-farm incident, including those posed to him by lawmakers.

The Public Protector is headed by Busisiwe Mkhwebane, who Ramaphosa suspended last month. She’s seen to be an ally of former President Jacob Zuma and his supporters who oppose Ramaphosa’s rule. Mkhwebane has instituted a probe into allegations that Ramaphosa misled lawmakers about a campaign donation and more recently one into an alleged breach of ethics by him, without providing details on the infringement.

In the 31 questions penned by Mkhwebane, Ramaphosa was asked about the source of the money that was stolen, its exact value and whether or not it had been disclosed to the tax agency as required by law.

The move to subpoena the president comes one week before the ANC meets for its five-yearly policy conference.

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