Daily Maverick

State Capture Crime, Scene 1 – Evidence mounts on Ajay Gupta’s part in State Capture playbook

Themba Maseko testifying at the Zondo Commission, 29 August 2018. (Live stream still frame)

The evidence is starting to stack up against Ajay Gupta and the Hawks at the State Capture inquiry where testimony by Themba Maseko served to back earlier submissions by Mcebisi Jonas and Vytjie Mentor of an alleged corrupt pattern of behaviour by the Gupta family and the crime-fighting agency.

Suspect: Ajay Gupta

Accomplice: Jacob Zuma

Accessory after the fact: The Hawks

Witnesses: Mcebisi Jonas, Vytjie Mentor, Themba Maseko

Themba Maseko is the third witness at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture to expose questionable conduct by the Hawks which suggests its investigators were playing a double game in instances where they pretended to be investigating State Capture while actually actively trying to protect former President Jacob Zuma and/ or the Guptas.

And, like Mcibisi Jonas, the former deputy finance minister, and former ANC MP, Vytjie Mentor, Maseko’s testimony puts Ajay Gupta’s conduct under the microscope.

This was after the Gupta patriarch asked for a meeting to discuss how the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS) could benefit the family business.

He said Ajay had called him for a meeting in 2010, telling him that GCIS – a government unit located within the Presidency – had a R600-million budget and that the Guptas were in the process of setting up a new venture, one that would require “government support”.

He didn’t know anything about this plan but agreed to meet with Ajay as he would have met with any other media owner.

However, Maseko said he was reluctant because, at the time, there had been rumours of the Gupta plans to set up a media company and talk of them using their influence with senior politicians to extract government contracts.

Led through his testimony to the commission by senior advocate Vincent Maleka, Maseko was asked to highlight a striking addition in his statement to the Public Protector in August 2017.

This related to him allegedly having been bullied by the Gupta brother in a bid to force him to move some of government’s media-spend to The New Age newspaper, which doesn’t exist these days.

I consider the approach by the Guptas and the manner in which they set to put pressure on me as uncalled for and irregular,” Maseko explained.

Firstly, making demands on me as a public official, GCIS was part of the Presidency, summoning me to the house and threatening that I would be dealt with if not doing what they wanted.”

Also, he said, he considered the approach to him to have been contrary to the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Act, two pieces of legislation he described as “sacrosanct” because they define the manner in which public money can be spent.

In a sense they were asking me to break the laws of the land.”

Maseko is scheduled to elaborate on his discussions with the Gupta brother and, possibly, repeat his earlier claims that Zuma had called to push him to attend the meeting.

What is crucial about Maseko’s initial evidence is that it places Ajay Gupta in the room and shows the arrogance and power of the Guptas at that time.

It also adds to the testimony of Jonas last Friday when he detailed Ajay Gupta’s alleged R600-million bribe offer and a promotion to Finance Minister in exchange for firing some of the most senior officials at national Treasury.

In addition, Mentor had told the commission that it was Ajay Gupta who had told her he could make her the Minister of Public Enterprises when Barbara Hogan got the sack in a Cabinet reshuffle by Zuma. That reshuffle happened two months later.

Ajay Gupta, through his lawyers, is scheduled to bring an application before commission chairman, Justice Raymond Zondo, to cross-examine Jonas, Mentor and possibly Maseko on Friday.

Hawks to the rescue, but whose rescue?

Maseko also testified of the questionable conduct of Hawks officers, in a way similar to that described by Jonas and Mentor about how the Hawks had allegedly tried to sabotage criminal State Capture investigations involving Zuma or the Guptas.

Jonas had testified how Ajay Gupta allegedly told him that the family were “in control” of the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority and the NIA (state security).

He explained how a Hawks officer, a Captain Govender, had reached out to him via a DM (direct message between two people following each other) on Twitter.

He had asked that I call him urgently because the Hawks were doing an investigation and thought I could help.”

When Maseko called Captain Govender, he allegedly told him the Hawks would like to interview him as part of their State Capture investigations.

He asked me to prepare an affidavit covering various statements I had made in the media plus my interactions with the Gupta family. It was sworn, signed on 22 June 2017.”

The Hawks later asked him for a supplementary affidavit about his “experiences” with the Guptas. He said he was told that “they were looking at possibly charging Mr Ajay Gupta and President Zuma and wanted to go through the affidavit again”.

Yet, Maseko said he would later be told that “his case” would no longer be followed up on.

But he would soon get a call from a different Hawks investigator, a Captain Masilela who asked him for a meeting about issues relating to a Public Works tender dating back to 2005.

I met with the Captains who were investigating. On my arrival at the venue for the meeting I was asked if I had brought my lawyer with (didn’t have a lawyer). It transpired they were now investigating the procurement of an IT facility procured when I was at Public Works, particularly my role in the awarding of that contract.”

They needed a statement from Maseko because this case was now urgent as the Hawks had a meeting with NPA prosecutors the following week.

He agreed to make a preliminary statement, but to date, despite several letters requesting an update, nothing has come of it. In fact, said Maseko, it only served to distract him from his preparation for the State Capture Inquiry.

However, following a report in the Sunday Times that he was now under investigation himself, Maseko said he suddenly got a call from senior Hawks officials.

As it turns out, they initially said there was no case like that (the 13-year-old IT deal) but later came back, saying there was something, registered under “a different unit” of the Hawks.

This, said the commission’s Advocate Maleka, was unfortunate as it meant that a State Capture witness like Maseko was now living “with this cloud over his head”. DM

The hearing resumes on Thursday morning.

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