Michigan publisher John McGoff last year considered serving as apparent owner of a newspaper financed by the South African government in order to act as a conduit for the secret government money backing the paper, according to sworn testimony released in South Africa yesterday.
He and German publisher Axel Springer also reportedly offered an undisclosed amount of money to help the South African government take control of the South African publishing company that prints the Rand Daily Mail, the Johannesburg newspaper that is an outspoken critic of the government.
The testimony's release by a South African judge investigating misappropriation of government funds followed press reports in South Africa Wednesday that McGoff received a loan of $11.5 million from the Information Department to help in an unsuccessful bid to buy The Washington Star in 1974.
[In a telephone interview last night, McGoff denied that he had ever considered becoming an owner of the South African newspaper, The Citizen. He also denied that he had ever offered to help take over The Rand Daily Mail and said he had never met Springer.]
Meanwhile, the Information Department scandal is threatening to involve Prime Minister P.W. Botha directly and has spawned a bitter fight between him and Black Affairs Minister Connie Mulder, the former minister of information who would ultimately bear responsibility for misuse of the secret government funds.
Botha, who came into office only five weeks ago, was accused in press accounts yesterday of attempting to prevent the judge investigating the scandal, Anton Mostert, from releasing the evidence he has heard so far.
The lastest allegation of McGoff's interest in acting as a front owner for The Citizen was made by lawyer Retief Van Rooyen, who formerly was connected with the Information Department's covert operations.
Van Rooyen testified to Mostert that he was visited in September or October of last year by Secretary of Information Eschel Rhoodie and John McGoff. During the meeting, which allegedly took place in South Africa, Rhoodie is said to have told McGoff that McGoff "was thinking of taking over" The Citizen.
At the time, South African business leader Louis Luyt was acting as a front man for the Information Department's financing of the English-language newspaper. McGoff would have "bought" the paper from Luyt, according to Van Rooyen.The scheme was said to have been the brainchild of Eschel Rhoodie, and the paper was to have promoted the views of the government, dominated by Afrikanns-speaking whites, to the English-speaking population.
Luyt eventually sold The Citizen earlier this year. Two Americans, Beurt Servaas, Saturday Evening Post publisher, and David A. Witt, identified only as a Dallas attorney, bought part interest in the paper.
It was Luyt who told Mostert that McGoff and Springer had been named to him as foreign partners with the South African government in a bid to take over the South African Associated Newspapers in 1975.
The Rand Daily Mail, which has disclosed the major aspects of the scandal this week, reiterated in an editorial yesterday that the $11.5 million remained in McGoff's overseas company for just over two years, when the loan was repaid with interest.
Mulder, who has come under increasing pressure to resign, especially in the light of his denial in parliament this year that his Department of Information was not financing any newspaper, has steadfastly refused to comment.