JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma, under scrutiny for his friendship with a wealthy business family, has asked an anti-corruption watchdog not to report her findings until he has had a chance to question other witnesses, his office said on Monday.
Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who has been a thorn in Zuma’s side, is due to release her findings by Friday, the day before her seven-year term comes to an end. She questioned Zuma for four hours last Thursday over allegations his business friends, the Gupta family, had influenced political appointments.
Despite denials by Zuma and the Guptas, the affair has damaged the president, who was separately forced to repay part of the cost of a lavish upgrade to his private residence as a result of an investigation by Madonsela.
The presidency said in a statement that Zuma had asked Madonsela’s office to confirm by Tuesday that it would not conclude the current investigation and issue any report until he was given a chance to question the witnesses involved.
“Furthermore, the President would want to exercise his right to question some of the witnesses before responding to the written questions and adducing evidence,” the statement said adding that he wanted to be assisted by a legal representative.
Zuma would testify after speaking to witnesses and reviewing any evidence that implicated him in the matter, the statement added. There was no immediate comment from the watchdog’s office.
Madonsela spoke to Zuma and his lawyers behind closed doors last week about the allegations that the Guptas had played a role in selecting cabinet members and used their relationship with the president to gain favour in terms of government tenders, payments and licenses.
Her office said that for most of the four hours, the president’s lawyers argued that the probe should be deferred to her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
The Guptas, who moved to South Africa from India after apartheid fell in 1994, run businesses ranging from uranium and coal mining to media and information technology.
Madonsela won popular acclaim when her investigation into $16 million of state spending on Zuma’s private home was upheld in the constitutional court and the president was forced to repay some of the funds.
Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by James Macharia and Mark Trevelyan