The High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday morning ruled that President Cyril Ramaphosa’s CR17 bank records should remain sealed following an application by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to have the public gain access to the information.
The case was dismissed with costs in a short judgment.
In 2019, a front-page report in The Sunday Independent detailed a list of the prominent names of individuals and groups who donated funds to Ramaphosa’s CR17 Nasrec election campaign to become ANC president in 2017.
The presidency slammed that media leak at the time, while suggesting it may have come directly from Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s office, and questioned whether she had obtained the bank statements of the campaign in a lawful manner herself. They had been obtained from the Financial Intelligence Centre.
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson argued at the time that the campaign’s right to privacy had been infringed.
The campaign’s financial records were sealed in August 2019 by Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba after Ramaphosa argued they had been illegally obtained by Mkhwebane during her investigations.
The EFF later argued that this had been done against the public interest and counsel for the EFF Ishmael Semenya SC said the EFF’s case was based on section 19 of the constitution – to advance a political campaign to deal with alleged corruption.
Wim Trengove SC argued for Ramaphosa that the EFF had previously enjoyed full access to the CR17 bank statements but had not considered them relevant enough to include in the court contest between Ramaphosa and Mkhwebane. He criticised them for coming after the fact to claim the sealing had been improperly granted.
In July 2019, Mkhwebane released her controversial report on the CR17 campaign. In it she found Ramaphosa had breached the executive ethics code by not disclosing a R500,000 donation to the campaign made by Gavin Watson, the late former chief executive of Bosasa, and misled Parliament, as well as that there was “merit” to the suspicion of money laundering.
Her entire report was also later set aside, with the Constitutional Court handing her a scathing court blow at the start of July when it found that Ramaphosa did not mislead Parliament about donations made during his 2017 campaign, among other things.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Chris Jafta said Mkhwebane got the facts and law wrong.
The court also ruled there was no evidence that Ramaphosa had personally benefited from donations made to his CR17 campaign, adding that Mkhwebane did not have the authority to investigate the campaign, as it was not part of the complaint she had been asked to investigate.
“There is no merit in the argument advanced by [the Public Protector and the EFF]. Both the Constitution and the Public Protector Act do not empower the Public Protector to investigate private affairs of political parties. Political parties do not perform a public function or exercise a public power, as it is a private affair, not a state affair,” Jafta said.
What are the CR17 leaks?
In the media leaks, Ramaphosa’s main funders were revealed as numerous wealthy businesspeople, including mining magnate Nicky Oppenheimer, who reportedly gave R10 million, Pick n Pay founder Raymond Ackerman, who gave R1 million, and many others. Even former Absa CEO Maria Ramos’ name cropped up.
An alleged R2 million donation from news channel eNCA founder, director and owner of Hosken Consolidated Investments Johnny Copelyn raised eyebrows particularly among members of the EFF.
The president’s spokesperson argued in 2019 that the “selective circulation of this banking information” was intended to cast aspersions on the president.
“Neither the president nor the campaign has done anything wrong, ethically or legally. It is a common and accepted practice in South Africa and across the world for parties and candidates to raise funding from donors for campaigns.”
The presidency added: “Funds were raised from a broad cross-section of South African society, sometimes with the help of supportive individuals who had access to various networks. More than a hundred individuals made contributions to the campaign according to their means. The donations were made on a confidential basis.”
Mkhwebane had suggested in her report that Ramaphosa’s campaign may have been given more than R400 million by donors, though Ramaphosa’s legal papers alleged she massively miscalculated the funding since she allegedly got the opening dates of the accounts wrong and did not take account of inter-account transfers and interest payments in making her calculations.