The South African National Editors’ Forum has expressed deep concern over the visit by two police officers to the offices of the Mail & Guardian newspaper in Johannesburg today.
City Press learnt that police went to the M&G to get a statement from the paper’s associate editor, Phillip de Wet, following the leaking of an Absa draft report by Public Protector Busi Mkhwebane that was published by the newspaper last month.
Gauteng police spokesperson Brigadier Mathapelo Peters said: “All we can confirm at this stage is that a case has been opened in relation to the Public Protector’s report in reference.
"Because the case is now under investigation, we are not at liberty to discuss in the public domain any matter pertaining this investigation.”
Questions sent to the police included whether a search warrant or subpoena was obtained before the visit, which unit visited the M&G and what prompted police to act.
According to Sanef chairperson Mahlatse Gallens, police told the M&G that they were there because of an investigation following a complaint by the Public Protector.
Gallens said police members requested a statement from De Wet on the source of a “leaked” draft report by the Public Protector on the Absa-Bankcorp matter relating to an apartheid-era bailout.
“We wish to reiterate that the confidentiality of sources is not only sacrosanct but the cornerstone of the ability of whistle-blowers to expose corruption and other malfeasance in the public interest.
“We have noted that the M&G will seek legal advice on the matter and Sanef will support the newspaper should the need arise,” Gallens said.
Contacted for a comment, M&G editor-in-chief, Khadija Patel said a statement would be released within 15 minutes.
In the statement, the newspaper said two officers visited the M&G offices early on Thursday afternoon, on what they described as an investigation of a complaint by the public protector in terms of section seven of the Public Protector Act.
“In January the M&G revealed that an interim report from the Public Protector had recommended that the bank pay R2.25 billion to the fiscus for an unlawful apartheid-era bank bailout.
“The interim report proposed that the president should consider a commission of inquiry into apartheid-era looting of the state.”
The report was sent to Absa, the South African Reserve Bank, the treasury and the presidency as the head of government, which is implicated in the report.”
“De Wet declined to answer any questions before consulting a lawyer, and offered to provide a detailed, written statement after doing so. The investigators were amenable to this suggestion.”
Patel was quoted as saying: “While the M&G intends to cooperate with the police where possible, we consider the protection of confidential sources to be of the utmost importance.”
News24 reported today that following the publicity of the leaked report, Mkhwebane laid criminal charges with the police over the leaking of the draft report.
Her spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, told News24 at the time that the action was to establish how the leak had occurred and who was behind it.
He said in terms of the Public Protector Act, information contained in the report could only legally be publicised with Mkhwebane’s consent.
“Leaking information dents the image of the institution and results in a trust deficit. It could lead to people not trusting our processes, especially whistle-blower who may not be identified,” he said.
Those implicated may feel hard done by if provisional reports are published before they are given the right of reply, Segalwe said at the time.