Zondo Days

What the Guptas wanted from Mcebisi Jonas

By Jessica Bezuidenhout 24 August 2018

Mcebisi Jonas (left), Ajay Gupta (right)

The strings attached to the R600-million bribe offer to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas involved the decimation of the top structure at National Treasury.

Gupta patriarch Ajay Gupta sought to buy Mcebisi Jonas for R600-million so he could help boost the family’s State Capture loot to R8-billion.

Part of that plan entailed the firing of Director General Lungisa Fuzile, Head of Tax and Financial Sector Policy Ismail Momoniat, senior technocrat Andrew Donaldson and the former chief procurement officer Kenneth Brown.

This is but one of the explosive revelations from Jonas’s testimony at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Friday.

They would provide me with replacements for these people and would give me advisors,” said Jonas in his testimony at the inquiry before deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

Except, this public servant was not for sale. The bribe, along with an offer to promote him to finance minister, was met with such clear irritation and anger that Jonas feared he was going to be punched in the face by Ajay Gupta.

Testifying on day three of the Commission, Jonas seemed unruffled, consistent, honest and sincere as he relayed details of a meeting with the Gupta brother on that Friday afternoon in October 2015.

It was at this meeting, held at the notorious Saxonwold compound – and, in the presence of former President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, – that Jonas says the offer was made to him, ostensibly “because the old man” liked him and the Guptas wanted to check him out to see if they could work with him.

Ajay Gupta “talked like a radio” during the meeting, he was “boastful, arrogant” and seemingly unashamed about his intentions to increase the Gupta slice of the fiscus pie from R6-billion to R8-billion.

They would make Jonas “rich” and “untouchable”, just like they had done for Duduzane who was by then living the highlife in Dubai.

There was one problem: National Treasury was a stumbling block in corrupt efforts and the meeting with Jonas didn’t go according to plan as it had gone with other enablers of State Capture.

We have Lynne Brown and Brian Molefe. He is safe. Nothing will happen to him,” Ajay allegedly told Jonas.

Brown is the former Minister of Public Enterprises under whose watch the Guptas managed to get their tentacles into state-owned companies for what has been described as wholesale looting though multibillion-rand deals while Molefe was CEO of Eskom when executives allowed a controversial pre-payment for coal deals that helped the Guptas raise cash to buy Optimum Coal Mine.

But this upstanding South African wasn’t dazzled by the money, he didn’t rub his hands in glee at the thought of a fat bribe or a powerful position, and displayed his irritation.

I was shocked and angered and told him I didn’t want it.”

Well, Mr Gupta wasn’t impressed, later even became violent as he allegedly sought to intimidate Jonas.

We know everything about you. You must understand we are in control of everything. The NPA, the NIA, the Hawks. And the old man (a common reference to Zuma) will do anything we tell him to do.”

Although he had displayed his unhappiness about the meeting, Jonas says he kept pressing Ajay for more detail of what would be expected of him. “

I never seriously considered the offer. It was intended to provoke him into providing more detail and to determine who was involved…I tried to flush him out. “

I began to walk away. Mr Gupta motioned to Duduzane and Fana as I walked to the door. “

He re-emphasised the bribe offer, saying they were “serious” about it.

He said they could open an account for me, could stash it in Dubai. To show they were serious, he said: ‘I can give you R600,000 now…and asked if I had a bag.

I said I didn’t want money.”

As he finally managed to leave, he says, Ajay “threatened to kill me” if details of the meeting were leaked.

By now, without his car, as he been taken to the compound by Duduzane, Jonas had to make his way to the airport courtesy of a Gupta driver.

He contacted his boss Nhlanhla Nene, who was in fact fired some six weeks later, to make arrangements for a meeting but only managed to see him a few days later as they spoke on the balcony of his office at National Treasury, afraid that their offices were bugged.

Jonas also got to brief Pravin Gordhan who had been shafted to local government, that same weekend when he visited Gordhan at home.

Gordhan, Jonas says, told him they should wait, and try to get more details and then decide what would be in the best interest of the country.

I told him I would discuss it with Nene and we agreed to keep it confidential.”

But Nene, realizing his time was up, reckoned he should resign. Jonas says he then told him not to, that they needed to hold fort amid the wide-spread hostility that Treasury faced, mainly over its resistance to the nuclear deal then.

Although he briefed his senior colleagues about the plan to fire Nene and the bribe offer, Jonas says he saw no point in reporting it to the Hawks, or the police, as he believed the institutions to be seriously compromised at the time.

He testified that his concerns about the independence of the Hawks were amplified months later, when he was contacted by the head of the anti-corruption unit of the Hawks, Major General Zinhle Mnonopi.

She produced a draft statement for him to sign that would essentially help “kill” a criminal investigation into the Jonas bribe case, which had by then been reported to the Hawks by the DA.

This statement, prepared by “an advocate” at the National Prosecuting Authority has clearly piqued the interest of Justice Zondo who asked Jonas if he could remember the name of the advocate. Save for the fact that it was “an Afrikaans name,” Jonas said he could not remember at this stage.

Recently appointed to the MTN board and a government investment panel, Jonas was the first high-profile whistle-blower to testify at the inquiry.

He may return to the Commission at a different stage for further testimony and there is still the prospect that lawyers acting for any of the implicated parties, including Ajay Gupta, may bring an application to cross-examine him at the inquiry.

The Commission is scheduled to resume on Monday when former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor is scheduled to testify about her encounter with the Guptas and an offer of a Cabinet post in exchange for favourable business dealings at South African Airways. DM

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