Despite the threat of arrest hanging over two editors at the Sunday
Times, Independent Newspapers has learned that the impending charges of
theft may be unfounded writes Fiona Ford in The Star.

Mondli Makhanya, the editor of the weekly paper, and Jocelyn Maker, its deputy managing editor, could face arrest this week over the theft and illegal possession of the controversial medical records of Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

The records formed the basis of a damning newspaper report eight weeks ago about the minister's stay at the Medi-Clinic in Cape Town in 2005, describing abusive behaviour unfitting for the guardian of South Africa's healthcare system.

'I would have been very happy to publish the story, but I refused to pay for it'
Late on Friday, the newspaper's attorney, Eric van den Berg, was informed of the impending charges, but told Independent Newspapers on Sunday: "We haven't seen a charge sheet, but we're told they (the investigating officers) are in the process of the finalising one".

Although hugely speculative, "we understand they are bringing charges of theft, contravention of section 17 (illegal possession of medical records) and some other charges", he added.

Cape Town police spokesperson Senior Superintendent Billy Jones declined to elaborate on the charges, but did confirm that "based on a case of theft of medical records that was opened by Medi-Clinic… an investigation is under way".

However, it appears the controversial medical records were offered to, and not procured or stolen by, the Sunday Times.

Earlier this year, Rapport was approached by someone hoping to sell the health minister's medical records to the Afrikaans newspaper.

"I would have been very happy to publish the story, but I refused to pay for it," Tim du Plessis told Independent Newspapers on Sunday.

The holder of the records "was very vague about the amount they wanted, but it was in the region of about R100 000".

When no deal was forthcoming, the holder duly approached the Sunday Times, who "ran with the information in the best interest of the public", according to a well-placed member of the Johnnic Publishing Group.

They flatly deny that the records were bought. "No money exchanged hands, I can assure you of that," they claim.

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