South African president cleared of wrongdoing in scandal over $580,000 in cash stolen from his farm

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was cleared Friday by a public watchdog over a scandal involving the theft of more than half a million dollars in U.S. currency that had been stashed in a sofa in his his game farm.

Acting public protector Kholeka Gcaleka, whose office holds politicians accountable, said Ramaphosa did not breach the code of ethics for members of the South African executive during the incident, which occurred in 2020 but was only publicly revealed last year.

The scandal was seen as the biggest challenge to Ramaphosa’s reputation and his leadership of Africa’s most developed economy. A criminal investigation is still ongoing into the incident.

Ramaphosa said $580,000 in cash was stolen. Gcaleka said it was not part of his investigation to confirm how much money was involved and did not give a figure.

Ramaphosa, 70, was accused of failing to properly report the theft to police in a bid to cover up the existence of the large sum of cash hidden in furniture on his farmhouse. He said he reported it to the head of his security department, which is part of the South African Police Service.

Clearing him in his final report of the scandal, Gcaleka admitted that Ramaphosa reported the crime to the head of his personal protection unit and that the claim that he acted improperly was “unsubstantiated”.

Gcaleka also said there was no evidence that Ramaphosa was guilty of a conflict of interest over any income from the business operations of his Phala Phala game farm in the northern province of Limpopo.

“The allegation that the President improperly and in violation of the provisions of the Executive Code exposed himself to a risk of conflict between his constitutional duties and obligations and his private interests arising from his alleged paid work at the Phala Phala farm is not justified,” Gcaleka told a news conference.

The investigation into Ramaphosa was triggered by a complaint lodged with the Office of the Public Protector by the opposition African Transformation Movement party.

The incident came to light last June when former South African intelligence chief Arthur Fraser opened a police investigation accusing Ramaphosa of hiding up to $4 million on his farm before that it is not stolen. Fraser accused the president of laundering money and violating tax and foreign currency control laws, and of attempting to cover up the theft of the cash in an effort to hide his existence.

Ramaphosa denied any wrongdoing and also disputed the amount of money Fraser claimed was stolen.

Fraser also made other startling claims that Ramaphosa ordered the head of his personal protection unit, Major General Wally Rhoode, to undertake a clandestine investigation to recover the money, including the capture and torture of some of the suspects and then bribing them to keep them. the secret of the incident.

Public Protector Gcaleka dispelled these allegations, or even that Ramaphosa was aware of the details of Rhoode’s investigation.

“No evidence could be found to prove that the president knew of General Rhoode’s investigation of the crime,” she said.

The scandal had seriously damaged Ramaphosa’s image as a leader determined to clean up South Africa’s corrupt government and its ruling party, the African National Congress.

Questions remain, however, about why so much money was stuffed into a couch on the farm. Ramaphosa did not explain why the money was in the couch but said it was proceeds from the sale of buffaloes to a Sudanese businessman.

The scandal led opposition parties to call for Ramaphosa’s resignation, but they failed in their bid to initiate impeachment proceedings against him, with his ANC party retaining a majority in the 400-member parliament.

In December, a report by a parliamentary panel set up to investigate the matter found that Ramaphosa may have broken anti-corruption laws. According to this report, Ramaphosa said the stolen money was $580,000.

The report also questioned Ramaphosa’s explanation that the money came from the sale of buffaloes, as he discovered the animals remained on the farm more than two years later.

However, the ANC rejected the report’s findings and used its majority in parliament to block attempts to initiate impeachment proceedings, paving the way for Ramaphosa’s re-election as party leader. He is expected to seek a second and final five-year term in elections next year.


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