S.Africa's top cops open probe into newspaper

25th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

South Africa's elite Hawks police said Friday they have opened an investigation into how a weekly newspaper obtained a copy of a sealed interview with President Jacob Zuma's spokesman over a weapons deal.

Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela told AFP that an officer had been assigned to investigate the complaint by Mac Maharaj, a former minister in Nelson Mandela's government who is now the presidential spokesman.

"Once done, the case will be handed over to the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) for a decision" on whether to bring the charges to court, Polela said.

Maharaj has accused the weekly Mail & Guardian and two of its journalists of illegally obtaining a transcript of his interview several years ago with investigators looking into bribery claims in a $5-billion arms deal.

His interview is protected as confidential by law.

Maharaj laid charges last weekend after blocking the full publication of an article that the Mail & Guardian said would have shown that he had lied during the questioning.

The matter comes amid fears for press freedom after a new state secrets bill, was passed by the ruling African National Congress through the National Assembly on Tuesday, which has been attacked as a threat to free speech.

The former Robben Island apartheid prisoner was also named by the latest edition of the Sunday Times as having received bribes from French weapons maker Thales.

Maharaj has denied the claims.

An inquiry into the long-running arms deal saga -- seen as a blemish on South Africa's young democracy -- has recently been reopened.

© 2011 AFP

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