Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan headed SARS when a unit was set up that police are investigating for conducting illegal surveillance on taxpayers. (SABC)
South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has been given until Monday to answer questions posed by a special police unit on his role in setting up a spy unit at the revenue service, a local newspaper reported on Sunday.
A spokesperson for South Africa's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as "the Hawks", confirmed that a letter had been sent to the minister's lawyers but declined to disclose its contents. "We are not going to discuss these matters through the media," Hangwani Mulaudzi said.
The Sunday Independent said the letter to Gordhan's lawyers instructed the minister to answer the questions by 1600 local time Monday. The Treasury declined to comment, but Gordhan is scheduled to have a press briefing on Monday at 1200 with business and labour leaders who recently accompanied him on an investor road show to London and the United States.
Police are investigating the spy unit at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) for conducting illegal surveillance on taxpayers. Gordhan headed SARS when the unit was set up but has said he has no case to answer. In late February, South Africa's rand currency shed nearly four percent in one day after Gordhan said there were attempts to discredit him and the integrity of the Treasury through the probe.
Gordhan's lawyers said in early March that he missed a previous deadline to respond to the questions because he was busy preparing the country's budget and would respond to the police questions at a later date. The public spat has unnerved investor confidence in Africa's most advanced economy, which could lose its investment-grade rating by mid-year, potentially raising borrowing costs for government and firms alike.