The South African government using conservative American publisher John McGoff as a conduct, offered financial aid to the short-lived conservative New York daily, The Trib, as part of its covert efforts to gain influence in the American media, a Johannesburg newspaper reported today.
The offer reportedly was rejected by The Trib's owners.
The Rand Daily Mail also said that more than $1.5 million from the South African government were used by McGoff to help him buy a share of the London-based United Press International Television News Agency, (UPITN).
McGoff's firm, Global Communications, owns 50 percent of UPITN, which syndicates news film reports to television stations. United Press international (UPI) owns 25 percent and the privately owned International Television News (ITN) in London owns the remaining 25 percent.
An official investigation recently disclosed that at least some South African officials devised and funded a covert plan to gain influence in the major Western news media to mold public opinion and to counter what it regarded as negative and biased coverage of South Africa and its racial problems.
McGoff has been named repeatedly in South African newspapers investigating the campaign as a participant in the project. One phase of the campaign was an attempt to buy The Washington Star in 1974 reportedly through McGoff. An official investigation released this week confirmed that the government did try to purchase The Star, but it made no mention of McGoff, who has denied the allegations.
McGoff's purported role in the South African government's activities is reportedly under review by the U.S. Justice Department. Presumably one of the issues that would be raised in any review is possible violations of laws that require agents of foreign governments to officially register their dealings on behalf of those governments.
The Michigan-based publisher is a personal friend of former information minister Connie Mulder, who was forced to resign in disgrace after disclosures of financial abuses in the $73 million influence-buying campaign run by himself and his top aide, Eschel Rhoodie.
The Trib's former editor, Leonard Saffir, confirmed the South African government's secret offer to finance The Trib, the Mail said today. Saffir, 47, a one-time aide to former Conversative Sen. James Buckley of New York, said, according to the paper's account, that he first met McGoff in November 1977 on the recommendation of Richard Mellon Scaife, a banker. Saffir said he then received several calls from a man named Gerhard Zoffer, who described himself as an investment banker and writer.
According to Saffir's disclosures to the Mail, Zoffer told him that the money would come from the South African government. It would not become public because "We have a way-John McGoff. He will make the actual investment," Zoffer is allege to have said.
Saffir told the Mail that he turned down the offer-which was understood to be for millions of dollars-hecause he feared its disclosure would hurt the paper and also because he did not want to close control of The Trib.
Attempts by the Washington Post Saturday to reace McGoff and Saffir were unsuccessful.
The Mail also said that the $1.5 million for the UPITN deal was part of $11.5 million dispensed from the South African defense Department budget in 1974 to a secret Swiss bank account. That transfer has for the unsuccessful Washington Star bid, the official report said this week.
The paper said details of the UPITN acquisition by (McGoff are contained in a statement made Dec. 31, 1978, by South African business exective David Abramson to his lawyer.
The Mail said it had documentary proof of these allegations by Abramson, who has been named by investigative newspapers as a central figure in the Information Department's covert deals and the establishment of its "front" companies.
The Mail's report did not say whether McGoff reimburses the South African government and it implied that Pretoria still retains a percentage of MfGoff's holdings in UPITN. The report also did not say when the alleged deal took place.
UPITN's executive vice president, Ken Coyte, told a London newspaper that McGoff had given assurances that the South African government was not involved in his stake in the television news agency. There was "no possibility whatsoever," that South African money was involved, Coyte told the paper.