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President of South Africa faces impeachment over 'Farmgate' scandal

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South African President Cyril Ramaphosa denies any wrongdoing in what has become known as the “Farmgate” scandal, claiming that nearly $600,000 in cash found stuffed in sofa cushions at his Phala Phala farm in the country's northeast were proceeds from buffalo sales. File photo by Pete Marovich/UPI
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa denies any wrongdoing in what has become known as the “Farmgate” scandal, claiming that nearly $600,000 in cash found stuffed in sofa cushions at his Phala Phala farm in the country's northeast were proceeds from buffalo sales. File photo by Pete Marovich/UPI | License Photo

Dec. 1 (UPI) -- South African President Cyril Ramaphosa faces impeachment after an independent investigation determined he allegedly tried to cover up a $4 million robbery at his farm two years ago in an effort to abscond with the loot.

Ramaphosa denies any wrongdoing in what has become known as the "Farmgate" scandal, claiming that nearly $600,000 in cash found stuffed in sofa cushions at his Phala Phala farm in the country's northeast were proceeds from buffalo sales.

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He has not faced any criminal charges since the scandal first emerged back in June.

However, the extensive report released Wednesday by an independent South African investigative committee accuses Ramaphosa of concealing the $4 million heist and then pressuring the Namibian president into silencing the suspects following their arrests.

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Ramaphosa "abused his position as head of state to have the matter investigated and seeking the assistance of the Namibian president to apprehend a suspect," the committee said in the report.

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The case first came to light this past summer after the country's former spy chief, Arthur Fraser, accused Ramaphosa of working behind the scenes to conceal the caper.

At the time, Fraser publicly speculated whether the loot had come from money-laundering instead of buffalo sales, and accused the president of kidnapping and bribery.

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Well after the fact, Ramaphosa finally acknowledged that the robbery happened but said the amount stolen was far less than $4 million.

"I did not 'hunt' for the perpetrators of the theft, as alleged, nor did I give any instructions for this to take place," the president wrote in a submission to the panel's report.

The findings of the investigation have been handed over to the country's parliament, which will convene early next week to decide whether to launch official impeachment proceedings.

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In order to forcibly remove Ramaphosa from office, the body will have to find the president guilty of misconduct, abuse of power, and violating the constitution that he helped draft with Nelson Mandela in the early 1990s.

Leaders of Ramaphosa's party, the African National Congress, were expected to meet later Thursday to discuss the details of the report ahead of a larger political convention to decide whether the incumbent should seek a second term in 2024.

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Back in Cape Town, Ramaphosa canceled an appearance before parliament and rescheduled meetings with provincial lawmakers to give himself time to pore over the findings while opposition leaders made public calls for him to step down.

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"I have endeavored, throughout my tenure as president, not only to abide by my oath but to set an example of respect for the Constitution, for its institutions, for due process and the law," Ramaphosa said in a statement on Wednesday.

"I categorically deny that I have violated this oath in any way, and I similarly deny that I am guilty of any of the allegations made against me."

In the report, the panel specifically seeks an explanation for $580,000 found hidden inside a sofa that was never reported to authorities. The report further alleges that the cattle Ramaphosa claimed to have sold were still grazing on his farm.

"We think that the president has a case to answer on the origin of the foreign currency that was stolen, as well as the underlying transaction for it," the committee states in the report.

Ramaphosa was elected in 2018 and rose to power on an anti-corruption platform following the controversial tenure of his predecessor Jacob Zuma, who was sentenced last year to 15 months in prison for failing to appear for his criminal corruption trial -- a case that is still pending.

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