Former Sunday Times editor, Phylicia Oppelt, has issued a statement in which she denies any impropriety on the part of the Sunday Times regarding claims made by reporter Pearlie Joubert, who resigned from the newspaper in January 2015.
Joubert says she left the newspaper over the way in which a series of investigations into a ‘rogue unit’ in the South African Revenue Services (SARS) were handled. She claimed Oppelt’s ex-husband, Advocate Rudolf Mastenbroek, had influenced the reporting of the stories.
Oppelt says when Joubert’s affidavit was first brought to Times Media’s attention, the company launched an internal investigation as her claims had “serious implications”. An independent, external party conducted a comprehensive examination of Joubert’s accusations, she said.
“None, however malicious and obviously driven by a personal agenda, was found to have substance – specifically the claim that my former husband held sway in the reporting on SARS,” she said.
“To give this any credence is to fundamentally undermine the reputation, integrity and professionalism of my former colleagues in the Sunday Times’ investigations unit.”
Oppelt says the award-winning journalists in the unit did their jobs, which was to “hunt for information, obtain documents that the powerful wish to hide and write stories that shed light on misdeeds”.
She said a KPMG report into the existence of a rogue unit within SARS will substantively confirm the unit’s reporting. It is still to be released.
“Her affidavit is untested and the Sunday Times had no opportunity to cross-examine her at the Ombudsman’s hearing. It is the construct of an embittered person who simply aims to discredit her former colleagues and place of employment,” Oppelt said.
Oppelt went on to list “key issues” she says Joubert fails to address in the affidavit.
• Why on resigning she made no mention of her discomfort around this issue;
• The real reason for the breakdown in the relationship with her investigative colleagues, which involved her clearly breaching her ethical obligations as a journalist on a matter entirely unrelated to this case;
• The nature of her relationship with Johan van Loggerenberg, and;
• Why she wrote an anonymous and sympathetic article about van Loggerenberg’s charity while at the Sunday Times.
Oppelt is now general manager of editorial projects at Times Media.
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