The Mail & Guardian‘s attorneys sent another letter to national director of public prosecutions Menzi Simelane this week, repeating a request for permission to disclose the contents of presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj’s interview with the Scorpions in 2003.
The letter to Simelane argues that a proliferation of media reports and other publicly available documents that “contain the essence of the information which our client wishes to disclose” are already in the public domain, some of it since 2001.
Maharaj laid charges two weeks ago against the M&G and two journalists, Sam Sole and Stefaans Brümmer, on the basis that they were not entitled to possess or disclose information from his section 28 interview with the now-disbanded Scorpions unit.
An inquiry under section 28 of the National Prosecuting Authority Act empowers investigators to gather information before a possible criminal trial by summoning suspects to testify under oath in camera.
At the time the Scorpions were probing payments that had allegedly originated from French company Thales and gone to Maharaj and his wife, Zarina, through the electronics manufacturer’s local partner, Schabir Shaik.
Maharaj declined to comment on whether he lied to the Scorpions in 2003, but maintained that he was defending his legal right not to have his section 28 testimony disclosed.
The Act allows for disclosure of the contents of a section 28 inquiry only with the permission of the national director of public prosecutions.
City Press published excerpts from Maharaj’s section 28 interview last Sunday, pointing out that it had done so in 2007 without Maharaj laying criminal charges.
“In light of the extensive coverage of the contents of the section 28 (1) enquiry … there can be no rational basis upon which our client’s request can be denied,” the M&G‘s letter to Simelane states. The newspaper has requested a response from Simelane by December 7.
“In the event that Simelane does not respond, or responds in the negative, the next step might be a high court application to have his decision reviewed,” said the M&G‘s lawyer, Dario Milo.
He will also argue that having to seek a government functionary’s permission to publish information of public interest infringes the newspaper’s constitutional right to freedom of expression.
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