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South African Police Threaten Finance Minister with Legal Action

South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan reacts during a media briefing in Sandton near Johannesburg March 14, 2016.

South Africa's Hawks elite police unit said on Tuesday it would exercise its
"constitutional powers" after Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan failed to meet a second deadline to answer its questions, weakening the rand further.

Gordhan has been involved in a public spat with police investigating his role in the establishment of a spy unit within the revenue collection service. He has repeatedly called the investigation a smear campaign aimed at tarnishing his and the Treasury's credibility.

In a strongly worded statement, the Hawks said Gordhan had failed to meet a March 14 deadline to answer questions. "This is neither a talk-show nor a soapie. We are mandated to investigate without fear, favor or prejudice," it added, resorting to capitals to make its point.

"The minister, for whatever reasons, has failed to meet the SECOND deadline for answering questions and our legal team are forging a way forward which will see the Hawks exercising our constitutional powers."

"The investigations will not be stalled by an individual who refuses to comply with the authorities and demand a preferential treatment."

A Treasury spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the finance minister.

Gordhan has previously said he would take legal action to protect himself from what he called attempts to discredit him and the integrity of the Treasury through the investigation.

He said he was unable to answer the questions to meet the first deadline because he was busy preparing the budget.

On Monday he told a news conference he had not received a second letter from the Hawks.

The minister returned from a roadshow in London and New York last week, where he met investors and ratings agencies in a bid to avoid downgrades for Africa's most industrialized economy.

Ratings agencies have said weak growth and worsening fiscal deficits pose a major risk to its investment-grade status.

The rand extended losses against the dollar after the Hawks statement, and traded more than 2 percent lower at 15.9280.

"Investors are realizing the fight is real. Both sides are doubling down and at some point one side will hit the nuclear button," Nomura emerging market analyst Peter Attard Montalto said.