South Africa, Politics

Gexit? Not so fast, Guptas

By Marianne Thamm 29 August 2016

Should Number One’s BFFs be allowed to unbundle and leave South Africa before the Public Protector or the Hawks have completed investigations into the family’s alleged widespread “state capture”? And do those who might be circling the Gupta “assets” (now up for grabs) risk being fingered in possible future criminal matters? The country is poised at an interesting interregnum as the Zuma family blessers are rumoured to be threatening a Gexit. By MARIANNE THAMM.

Right now the Priority Crimes Investigation Unit (Hawks), which last week summoned Finance Minster Pravin Gordhan and other axed members of the SARS executive to their headquarters in Pretoria, is sitting on a massive “investigation” into the Gupta family’s alleged capture of the South African state through their relationship with President Jacob Zuma and the ANC.

In June this year Hawks head, Lieutenant-General Mthandazo Ntlemeza, revealed to City Press that three complaints – by the Democratic Alliance, Cope and former ANC MP Vyjtie Mentor – had been collapsed into one. The Hawks, he added, were being offered “guidance” in the matter by NPA head Shaun Abrahams, he who is reportedly poised to charge Gordhan and other SARS officials in the coming weeks.

The country learnt at the weekend that one of the more than 30 witnesses Abrahams has reportedly lined up to testify against Gordhan and his former SARS colleagues is Taiwanese-born Durban businessman, Robert Huang, a shady underworld figure and convicted murderer, who is also a former associate of Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse Zuma.

Huang was part of a delegation that accompanied President Zuma on a state visit to China in 2010. That same year the SARS National Research Group (NRG), led by Johann van Loggerenberg, initiated a probe into Huang’s Mpisi Trading, an import/export business. In 2012, 10 SARS officials were suspended following a joint investigation by police and SARS into a criminal syndicate at Durban Harbour. In two years more than R1-billion worth of counterfeit goods were also seized at the port and SARS launched a R540-million preliminary tax claim against Huang.

What is unsurprisingly not a priority for Abrahams right now is the reinstatement of the over 700 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering against President Zuma as a full bench of the Pretoria High Court has ordered. Zuma-appointed Abrahams has opted instead to take the matter on appeal to the Constitutional Court, bypassing the Supreme Court of Appeal.

In June Ntlemeza said that the Hawks investigation into the Guptas should be completed by December. Hopefully by then the prime suspects, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh (Tony) Gupta will still be in South Africa and not safely ensconced behind the high walls of their new R445-million Emirates Hills compound in Dubai (or holed up in the Nkandla bunker with Jacob Zuma).

On Saturday the Gupta family issued a statement announcing they would be unbundling their assets in South Africa.

As a family, we now believe that the time is right for us to exit our shareholding of the South African businesses which we believe will benefit our existing employees, and lead to further growth in the businesses. As such, we announce today our intention to sell all of our shareholding in South Africa by the end of the year. We are already in discussions with several international prospective buyers and will soon be in a position to make further announcements. We believe that this decision is in the best interests of our business, the country and our colleagues.”

This closely follows reports that a National Treasury investigation into all tenders concluded with Eskom in 2016 revealed that the parastatal had paid more than R130-million to Gupta-owned mining company Tegeta Exploration and Resources for useless coal. The Guptas purportedly attempted to stop the release of the report which had been requested by the DA’s Shadow Minister of Finance David Maynier.

Eskom hit back on Sunday saying Treasury had not issued “conclusive” findings against Eskom or any of its coal contracts.

The multiple investigations into the Gupta family came to a head around March when two complaints were lodged with the Public Protector. The first was by a group of Catholic priests and brothers, the Dominican Order of Southern Africa, who approached Madonsela’s office to investigate the Gupta family and the extent of its dealings and meddling in affairs of state.

The Dominican order also requested the Public Protector to determine whether the Gupta family had known about the appointment of Des van Rooyen in December 2015 and whether the two “advisors” who arrived with him had been properly appointed. The complaint also covered the Gupta family’s business dealings with government departments asking the PP to determine whether there had been any irregularities, undue enrichment, corruption and undue influence in the awarding of tenders, mining licences and government advertisements in the Gupta-owned The New Age.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane also submitted a formal request to Madonsela’s office to investigate whether President Zuma had breached the Executive Ethics Code “by wilfully allowing persons other than himself to appoint members of the Cabinet”.

In July Treasury gave the Public Protector the green light to redirect R1.5-million from other projects to fast-track the investigation into “Guptagate”. Madonsela requested the extra funding in April to employ additional forensic expertise to help unravel the Gupta family’s financial empire in South Africa.

And it is this investigation that is bound to be the first major challenge the probable new Public Protector, Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane, will face when she is almost certain to succeed Madonsela in October.

The DA has voiced concerns about her involvement with the State Security Agency (SSA) where she took up a position as an analyst three months ago. With the involvement of so many spies and spooks, not only with regard to the allegations of a SARS “rogue unit” (one of the first to make the allegation was Pretoria Attorney Belinda Walter, an SSA and British American Tobacco spy) but also those in the security cluster, including Minister of State Security David Mahlobo and Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko, who are known to be covering the increasingly cornered Zuma’s back, it is little wonder the DA is suspicious.

These are desperate and treasonous end-times.

In March, a day after Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas revealed that the Gupta family had offered him fired Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s position in December, the DA also lodged charges under the Prevention and Combating of Corruption Act against President Zuma’s son Duduzane as well as two of the Gupta brothers, Atul and Rajesh.

Around 20:30 on the evening of 9 May 2016, a Monday, Mabel Petronella Mentor (a.k.a. Vyjtie) signed an 18-page handwritten, sworn affidavit she had spent hours dictating at the SAPS Durbanville charge office. This after Mentor, a former ANC MP and chair of Parliament’s committees on Intelligence, Rules and Public Enterprises, had broken ranks in March, ’fessing up that the Guptas had offered her the Public Enterprises ministry in 2010 in exchange for the dropping of the lucrative SAA route to India in favour of a Gupta-linked airline.

That night Mentor had specifically requested that she give the statement to Major-General Jeremy Vearey, then Deputy Provincial Commissioner for Detective Services in the Western Cape. Vearey, however, did not take the statement. He received it later but recently-appointed Western Cape Provincial Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Khombinkosi Elvis Jula, elevated the explosive affidavit to Ntlemeza in Pretoria.

A month later, Vearey, with Major-General Peter Jacobs, who were both involved in high-profile and highly sensitive investigations involving politicians, were suddenly demoted. The Hawks, through spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, denied that the demotion had anything to do with the Mentor affidavit. Vearey declined to comment.

Daily Maverick has seen a certified copy of the affidavit in which Mentor says (at paragraph 61) that “I am of the conclusion that the Gupta family, the son of the President [Duduzane] and some Ministers named in this statement [Lynne Brown, Rob Davies and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula] as well as the President to a certain extent all have a corrupt relationship that gives an unfair advantage to the Gupta family and their associates at the expense of the state using state resources and agencies all the way for their own benefit”.

She says that “from the onset, in the year of the first Local Government Elections after 1994, Mr Chauke [Patrick Chauke ANC MP] reported to me that he met with the Gupta brothers in a garage which they rented in Bedfordview, Johannesburg, as they [Chauke] were doing door-to-door campaigning for the ANC.”

The Gupta brothers, she continues, requested to be introduced to “the leadership of the ANC and of government in Luthuli House. They specifically wanted to meet President Mandela, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and Minister Essop Pahad for this introduction they were willing to donate R50,000 for the ANC for election purposes”.

Mentor kicks off the statement explaining how, as the chair of the parliamentary portfolio committee on public enterprises, she was “entrusted with and exposed to and experienced sensitive matters” and that Denel – a state-owned company – “reported under me, meaning I was overseeing together with the Committee reporting under me.”

She said that Denel was “at one stage one of the most stable companies, meaning highly profitable and best run”.

The Gupta brothers, Mentor says, approached the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) “to borrow or make a loan to establish a company that will partner with Denel. The amount borrowed was R300-million.

This money was paid out to them. The Guptas were supposed to service the loan amount immediately. For 18 months they didn’t do it and the R300-million became R350-million that the Gupta brothers owed the IDC. They used the money to buy Oakbay Investments which gave birth to Shiva Uranium and VR Laser”.

(Mentor is erroneous in her reporting here as it was Oakbay Resources which took the loan for Shiva Uranium and not for the Denel venture which occurred in 2015. Point is, the Guptas got a R300-million loan.)

Mentor says the Guptas arranged a meeting with the IDC and made a deal that the IDC would become shareholders of one of their companies in lieu of their paying off the loan.

Shiva Uranium, said Mentor, “was strategically placed to supply uranium to the government for the nuclear energy plant that will still be built”.

At this point she became aware, she says, that the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, “a mini test nuclear station located in Pelindaba”, would be closed down. “This I was very unhappy with,” she says, and she arranged to meet with Minister of Public Enterprises, Barbara Hogan, who advised her to contact President Zuma.

I decided to follow her advice,” said Mentor, a course of action which eventually resulted in her being flown to Johannesburg from Cape Town ostensibly to meet with the president. Instead she found herself being driven to the Gupta compound in Saxonwold where she was allegedly offered the Ministry of Public Enterprises in exchange for granting the SAA India route to the Guptas.

In the affidavit Mentor sets out how the Gupta brothers collected her from the airport, made the offer and then she describes how President Zuma emerged from one of the rooms in the Gupta mansion after she had angrily raised her voice at the suggestion. She says:

At that moment the President enters the foyer from the back of me. I stood up and was angry. I explained to the President what transpired between me and this man, about him telling me that he would put in a word with the President for me to become the Minister, also that he was aware and informed me about my meeting with the President. The President rather chose to calm me by telling me to calm down. The president never reprimanded the man, nor did he come up for me. He didn’t even look surprised. I was the person made to be the mad one.”

In March Zuma denied ever having known or met Mentor.

While some weekend papers reported that the Guptas were making an exit and were “bolting” the country, the family on Sunday night issued a statement stating that they planned to remain in South Africa and had no intention of leaving the country.

That surely must be brilliant news for Ntlemeza and the Hawks and Shaun Abrahams and the NPA who will no doubt pursue the investigation into the Gupta family’s alleged state capture with the same zeal and dedication they have shown in hounding Pravin Gordhan and his colleagues.

Don’t hold your breath, however, that the Hawks will be summonsing Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta or Duduzane Zuma, never mind President Jacob Zuma, to the General Piet Joubert building in Pretoria for “warning statements”.

Meanwhile, the week begins for Pravin Gordhan and his colleagues as Shaun Abrahams personally attends to the Hawks docket that was handed to him on Thursday. Your move, Mr Abrahams. Hope it is this sometime this century. DM


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