S.Africa elite police mulling Zuma aide charges on newspaper

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South Africa's elite Hawks police said Wednesday they are mulling a probe into how a top newspaper obtained a copy of a sealed interview with President Jacob Zuma's spokesman over a weapons deal.

"We're looking through the details and only then we will decide whether or not to do an investigation," said Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela.

Mac Maharaj, a former minister in Nelson Mandela's cabinet, laid criminal charges against the weekly Mail & Guardian and two of its journalists after it gained access to his interview with investigators several years ago.

The Hawks will now have to decide whether to take up the case.

Maharaj laid charges at the weekend after blocking the full publication of the article, which appeared largely blacked out on Friday after he threatened legal action. His interview with investigators was protected as confidential by law.

The Mail & Guardian said the article would have shown that Maharaj had lied during the questioning, which was linked to a $5-billion arms deal mired in allegations of bribery to senior government officials.

The matter comes amid fears for press freedom over a new state secrets bill, passed by the ruling African National Congress through parliament 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.

"I have not been involved in corruption, bribery or broken any law," Maharaj said Tuesday.

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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