By Carien du Plessis
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog has cleared President Cyril Ramaphosa of a potential conflict of interest in relation to more than half a million dollars in cash stolen from his game farm.
A report released by acting Public Protector Kholeka Gcaleka found no evidence for the allegation that Ramaphosa violated his oath of office or exposed himself to a risk of conflict between his constitutional duties and his private interests.
The incident raised questions about how Ramaphosa, who came to power on the promise to fight graft, acquired the money and whether he declared it.
It nearly cost him his job in December, when a panel of experts appointed by parliament found Ramaphosa had a case to answer for possible misconduct, and his enemies within the ruling African National Congress and the opposition called for him to step down.
A spokesperson for Ramaphosa did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report. South African police are conducting a separate investigation into the theft of the money that is nearing completion, the officer in charge of the investigation said earlier in June.
Ramaphosa has not been charged with any crime.
A former spy chief last year brought the alleged theft to light when he said in a sworn statement that thieves had taken at least $4 million in foreign cash hidden in furniture on Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala game farm in February 2020.
The president disputes that number and told the corruption watchdog that thieves stole $580,000 from a room at the farm.
The watchdog’s report documented a receipt for that amount related to the sale of buffalo, a transaction the report said took place when the president was not at the ranch. The question of whether the money was reported to tax authorities was not within the scope of the watchdog’s investigation.
A report by a panel of experts appointed by the speaker of parliament centred on the spy chief’s allegations last year found that Ramaphosa had a case to answer for possible misconduct.
Opposition parties and Ramaphosa’s detractors in his own party called on Ramaphosa to resign based on the findings, but the governing African National Congress, which Ramaphosa leads, used its majority to quash that report and re-elected him, president, later in December.
The complaints to the Public Protector, a constitutionally-appointed ombud empowered to investigate corruption-related cases, were brought by the opposition African Transformation Movement, which holds two out of the 400 seats in Parliament.
The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, called the Public Protector’s report a “whitewash”.