South African President Cyril Ramaphosa denied allegations of money laundering while being questioned by lawmakers Thursday over a scandal that threatens his position and the direction of Africa’s most developed economy.
Ramaphosa already faces an investigation by police and a Parliament-appointed panel over the theft of a large amount of money in U.S. dollars from his ranch in 2020. He has been accused of illegally holding around $4 million in cash at his game ranch in northern South Africa and covering up its theft in an attempt to hide the existence of the money.
The allegations first surfaced in June when the former head of the national spy agency made a criminal complaint to police, accusing Ramaphosa of money laundering and other offenses.
“I deny that there was any form of money laundering,” Ramaphosa said in Parliament in Cape Town on Thursday. “It was the proceeds of the sale of game. I have been a game farmer for a number of years. That is an activity that sometimes results in the sale of animals.”
Ramaphosa has denied any wrongdoing in the incident but previously avoided questions about it, saying only that the theft did happen and that he reported it to the head of his presidential protection unit at the time.
The allegations have badly damaged his reputation as a leader intent on cleaning up both South Africa’s corruption-tainted government and his own ruling African National Congress party.
Ramaphosa said he would cooperate with any investigations into the incident. No criminal charges have been brought against him, but a police unit for serious and high-profile crimes is investigating.
The panel of independent legal experts appointed by Parliament will also decide if he has a case to answer for an alleged breach of his oath of office.
“I will cooperate to the fullest of my ability,” Ramaphosa told lawmakers.
The timing is terrible for the 69-year-old Ramaphosa, who is seeking reelection as leader of the ANC party at a conference in December. If he loses there, he would likely be forced out as president of the country.
Both Ramaphosa’s predecessors, Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki, lost the confidence of the ANC and, as a result, resigned the presidency.