A parliamentary inquiry probing a 2020 burglary scandal at President Cyril Ramaphosa’s ranch found evidence that the South African leader may have violated the constitution, a development expected to ratchet up pressure for the under-fire head of state to step down.
In an 82-page report submitted to parliament late Wednesday, the three-member panel of three legal experts headed by former chief justice Sandile Ngcobo said its investigations have found “that the president may have committed” serious violations of the constitution and acted in a manner that contradicted his oath of office.
The scandal emanates from his alleged handling of a robbery in which some thieves stole millions of United States dollars from Ramaphosa’s Phala Phala farm in South Africa’s Limpopo province in February 2020.
Among other violations cited by the panel is the fact that Ramaphosa did not report the theft directly to police, acting in a way inconsistent with holding office and exposing himself to a clash between his official responsibilities and his private business.
The robbery only came to light in June this year after former intelligence chief Arthur Fraser filed a criminal complaint against the president.
In his submission to the panel, Ramaphosa claimed that the aount stole was US$580,000, which were proceeds from the sale of 20 buffaloes to Sudanese businessman Mustafa Mohamed Ibrahim Hazim.
However, the inquiry said evidence suggested that the amount may have been greater than the US$580,000 and that it found a series of “troubling unsatisfactory features” in Ramaphosa’s explanation.
The inquiry found several loopholes in Ramaphosa’s explanation about the buffalo deal. These included the fact that the identity and exact business of Hazim were unclear, and that the decision by the Sudanese businessman to pay cash for the transaction was mysterious.
There was also no proper tax invoice issued for the transaction and it was puzzling that Hazim failed to collect the buffalo over the past two years, the panel said.
“How did he get this huge amount of cash into South Africa?” the inquiry asked.
There are no records showing that the Sudanese businessman declared the huge amount of money when he entered South Africa.
The inquiry also found it equally puzzling that the stolen money was stashed under the cushions of a sofa in a spare bedroom in Ramaphosa’s private residence and questioned why the president did not see it fit to bank the money.
The inquiry also found that Ramaphosa may have violated the constitution by running a private business and exposing himself to a conflict of interest, and he may have violated other rules by participating in a cover-up of the investigation into the theft.
The report is a blow to Ramaphosa’s political future and has triggered calls for him to resign ahead of a mid-December elective conference of his already fractured African National Congress (ANC).
If the report is endorsed by the South African parliament, it could lead to a formal impeachment process against Ramaphosa.
While the ANC holds a majority in parliament, an anti-Ramaphosa faction in the party could join forces with opposition parties to push for impeachment.
Ramaphosa’s office said late Wednesday that the president was going through the report, which requires “careful reading and appropriate consideration in the interest of the stability of government and that of the country.”
“The president is giving consideration to the report and an announcement will be made in due course,” presidential spokesperson Vincent Magwenya said in a statement.