By Chantelle Benjamin
20 March 2012 – Public Protector Adv Thulisile Madonsela said she will hold a preliminary probe into allegations that Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe's partner Gugu Mtshali was involved in an attempt to solicit a bribe for government support for a R2-billion deal sanctions busting deal with Iran.
There was some concern that the investigation would not go ahead after Ms Mandonsela raised concerns that she might not have the required jurisdiction to investigate Ms Mtshali. The protector's office said yesterday that the investigation would go ahead, and is expected to be completed by April 15.
The Public Protector's office said on Tuesday: "Following a request by the deputy president, the public protector has decided to conduct a preliminary investigation into the above allegations with a view to establishing whether anyone in the presidency or the department of trade and industry might have participated in unlawful conduct involving the use of state resources or power".
Mr Motlanthe requested an investigation by the public protector after the Sunday Times ran a story alleging that Mtshali had been implicated in a R104-million bribe to obtain government support for a South African company trying to close a R2-billion deal with Iran. It was alleged that Mtshali, former De Beers executive Raisaka Masebelanga and others allegedly met representatives of Cape Town-based 360 Aviation to solicit the bribe.
According the Sunday Times, the deal to supply United States-made Bell helicopters and spare parts tothe National Iranian Oil Companyvia South Africa, allegedly failed because 360 Aviation could not reach an agreement with the National Iranian Oil Company. The helicopters were allegedly going to be brought into SA and then reregistered before being sent on to Iran.
Ms Madonsela's office said the investigation was expected to determine whether "there are merits in the allegations that state resources and authority were employed to improperly enrich or advantage anyone for unlawful purposes".
The request by Mr Motlanthe for an investigation to be held to clear both his name and that of his partner, Ms Mtshali, was welcomed by both the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution (Casac), which said Mr Motlanthe demonstrated " openness and accountability", and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).
Casac said the deputy president had treated the allegations with the "seriousness it deserves", and Cosatu said on March 13 that while it did not want to speculate on Ms Mtshali's innocence or guilt, it felt strongly that no relatives of public representatives and trade unions should do with business with the government in order to avoid conflict of interest charges.
Apart from conflict of interest concerns, the allegations have serious political implications for SA. Sanctions relating to Iran's nuclear weapons development programme have been imposed by the United States, European Union and the UN Security Council. Justice minister Jeff Radebe has said in parliament that no expert of equipment to Iran is allowed because of the sanctions.
Mr Motlanthe is believed to have indicated to the public protector that neither he nor Ms Mtshali believe they are guilty of wrongdoing and would support any investigation.
His spokesman Thabo Masebe said on Tuesday that the deputy president obviously welcomes the decision to investigate the allegations.