EXPLANATOR: The scandal that engulfs the President of South Africa

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CAPE TOWN, South Africa – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa may face criminal charges and is already facing calls to step down over allegations that he tried to cover up the theft of millions of dollars in US currency hidden in furniture in his game farm.

The startling allegations made by the former head of South Africa’s intelligence agency also include that the robbery suspects two years ago were tracked down and abducted by Ramaphosa’s presidential defense department, questioned at his property and bribed to remain silent about the existence of cash, and no report was filed with the police.

The accusations severely undermine Ramaphosa’s reputation as a leader in the fight against corruption. He became president in 2018 with promises to purge the government and its corruption-ridden ruling African National Congress party, which is now far from the days when it was widely respected and led by Nelson Mandela. The scandal, dubbed the “farmer’s port” by the South African press, threatens to end Ramaphosa’s presidency and destabilize Africa’s most developed economy.

Here’s what we know so far about the scandal:

Former State Security Director Arthur Fraser entered a Johannesburg police station on June 1st and filed a criminal complaint against Ramaphosa for stealing more than $ 4 million in cash, which Fraser said was hidden in the ranch. This infuriated the media in the country. Fraser claims in an affidavit that Ramaphosa and others are guilty of money laundering and violating laws to control the country’s foreign currency over hidden money.

Fraser also claims that the robbery suspects were abducted and bribed to remain silent, and Ramaphosa hid the incident from police and tax officials. Fraser said he had provided police with “supporting evidence” that included photos, videos and bank account details. He said the robbery took place in February 2020.

The fact that it was Fraser who made the accusations against Ramaphos suggests that they are politically motivated. Fraser is a well-known loyalist to former President Jacob Zuma and an ANC faction that wants Ramaphosa removed. Zuma, Ramaphosa’s predecessor, was forced to resign as president in 2018 and is now sued for corruption. This process is seen as an indicator of Ramaphosa’s commitment to countering corruption at the highest level.

Fraser was also in the headlines last year when, as head of the correctional department, he gave Zuma parole against the recommendation of a parole board, which advised Zuma not to be released early after being convicted of contempt of court. Fraser was South Africa’s spy chief at Zuma from 2016 to 2018.

The charges forced Ramaphosa, 69, to fight for his political life. He acknowledged that the robbery did take place at his Phala Phala ranch in the northern province of Limpopo, but said it had been reported to the head of his defense unit, which falls under the control of South African police. He said the money had come from the sale of game animals on the farm and he “did not take part in any criminal activities.”

However, these answers are considered to be extremely inadequate. Ramaphosa declined to say how much, why they were hidden in his ranch and whether the foreign currency had been declared to authorities. He avoided many questions about the scandal at a 90-minute press conference in parliament last week, where he reduced a exhausted figure under pressure. He said he would not comment before a police investigation.

“I would like the proper process to be developed on this issue,” Ramaphosa said.

It was Ramaphosa They shouted in parliament in two consecutive days last week by deputies from the Fighters for Economic Freedom, the second largest opposition party. EFF has since stepped up its criticism, urging Ramaphosa to resign over the scandal. Two other opposition parties this week called on Parliament to put Ramaphosa on “Saturday leave” and launch a parliamentary inquiry. This was rejected by the Speaker of Parliament.

Police have not filed criminal charges against Ramaphosa, although a department dealing with serious and high-profile crimes is investigating Fraser’s allegations. Ramaphosa said he would appear voluntarily before the ANC’s integrity committee, which has the power to remove him as party leader. No date has been set for Ramaphosa to appear before the commission.

The moment of the scandal is terrible for Ramaphosa, who is already facing it terrible political challenges and critical party elections in December that will decide whether he will remain leader of the ANC and, in fact, whether he will remain president.

AP writer Mogomoci Magome of Johannesburg contributed to this story.

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