South Africa's anti-corruption watchdog has launched an investigation into several allies of President Jacob Zuma allegedly linked to corruption at three state-owned companies, based on a trove of recently leaked emails.
South Africa's Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said she would probe alleged "improper or dishonest" acts and "unlawful enrichment... By certain public officials" at rail company Prasa, power company Eskom and the Transnet freight logistics conglomerate.
One of the allegations involves suspected kickbacks worth 5.3 billion rand ($411 million) on a contract to purchase locomotives from China for Transnet, Mkhwebane said in a statement late Wednesday.
Brian Molefe, a close Zuma ally and a former head of Eskom, is among the people who will be investigated.
Thousands of leaked emails have recently emerged in the local press exposing alleged misconduct over lucrative government contracts awarded to the Guptas, an influential Indian business family.
A report published last year by the state ombudsman accused the Guptas of wielding unprecedented influence over the government, including letting them select ministers.
It also ordered a judicial inquiry into the allegations, but Zuma has opposed the inquiry and launched a court challenge against the report. His challenge will be heard in October.
The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, today criticised the probe for being too narrow and not focussing on Zuma.
"It appears that this investigation has been crafted as narrowly as possible to create the veneer of a state capture investigation, while at the same time protecting the real power brokers," the party said.
In power since 2009, Zuma has been engulfed by graft scandals and several humiliating court rulings while grappling with record unemployment and a sluggish economy.
His ruling African National Congress (ANC) party welcomed the decision to investigate the claims contained in the emails.
"We trust that the investigation will shed some much needed light on the disturbing allegations which, if left unattended, have the effect of undermining the integrity and credibility of our government and state," the ANC said.