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South Africa's top court says public protector acted in bad faith

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By Reuters
South Africa's top court says public protector acted in bad faith
FILE PHOTO: Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane listens during a briefing at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa October 19, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo   -   Copyright  Mike Hutchings(Reuters)
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JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled on Monday that an anti-corruption official who has accused President Cyril Ramaphosa of serious misconduct had acted in bad faith when investigating an apartheid-era bank bailout.

The strongly worded ruling could undermine the credibility of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane as she prepares to go to court against Ramaphosa and Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan, a key ally of the president.

“This court upholds the High Court’s finding that the public protector acted in bad faith,” the constitutional court said.

It upheld a punitive costs order made against Mkhwebane by the High Court last year for using flawed methods in an investigation she conducted in 2017.

The South African Reserve Bank had successfully challenged a recommendation she made in that case that its mandate should be changed as part of remedial actions, and sought that Mkhwebane personally pay some legal costs.

“This court accordingly concludes that the punitive aspect of the cost order against the public protector must stand,” the constitutional court said in Monday’s ruling.

Mkhwebane’s “entire model of investigation was flawed and … she was not honest about her engagements during the investigation”, it added.

Mkhwebane, who was at the court for the ruling, said she would study the judgment before commenting in detail later.

Ramaphosa said on Sunday he would urgently challenge Mkhwebane’s “flawed” findings in a separate investigation that he “deliberately misled” parliament over a donation to his 2017 campaign for the leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) party.

Mkhwebane recommended on Friday that Ramaphosa be referred to parliament for violating an executive ethics code.

Supporters of Ramaphosa accuse Mkhwebane of acting as a proxy for a faction in the governing party aligned with former president Jacob Zuma, which she denies.

Another of Mkhwebane’s recent investigations found that Gordhan had violated the constitution for exceeding his powers while serving as the country’s tax commissioner.

Gordhan, who disputes those findings, oversees efforts to revive struggling state companies like power firm Eskom and weapons manufacturer Denel and was previously South Africa’s finance minister.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Catherine Evans)