Former minister Lynne Brown failed on Thursday to meet a key requirement for the right to bring an application to cross-examine a witness because she didn’t put up her version.
She sought to cross-examine former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas on a reference in his testimony that Gupta patriarch, Ajay, had told him that the family “worked” with various people in government, including Brown.
Jonas made mention of Brown during his testimony about a meeting in Saxonwold where the Guptas allegedly offered him the job of finance minister and a R600-million bribe in exchange for favours.
While Brown’s legal counsel, senior advocate Simmy Lebala had hoped to paint a picture for the Commission, to provide context in a build up to why Brown should be permitted to cross-examine Jonas, Zondo would have none of that.
“Where is her version?”
“Does she deny that she worked with them?”
“Does she deny that she was protected by them?”
Unable to satisfy the Commission on these key factors, Brown’s application was dismissed on Thursday morning though she is free to bring a fresh application, one that meets the requirements.
“Nowhere in specific terms did Brown say that she denies Jonas’ claims of what the Gupta brother had told him or that it was not true,” Lebala said.
He added: “We contend that Miss Brown is not the be all and end all of this Commission, but she (her case) is unique.”
This was because of the scope of the Commission’s State Capture inquiry that would be delving into substantial allegations of corruption at state-owned enterprises which were under Brown’s auspices at the time.
Lebala said as such, the Commission could not “elbow her out”.
Brown was the minister of Public Enterprises between May 2014 and March 2018 when she resigned as an MP after being shafted in a Cabinet reshuffle by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Lebala told the Commission that it would be grossly unfair to allow Jonas’s incriminating testimony to go unchallenged.
“We want to stress the following: We do not regard her application to cross examine Jonas as being superior to others. But we cannot be impervious to issues he raised and her name being mentioned. That sound byte was significant in the context in which she was mentioned,” Lebala said.
Brown does have the right to seek permission to appear before the Commission to state her case.
However brief, the little tap-dance between Lebala and justice Zondo was tense and the judge’s firm insistence that she cannot bring such an application without putting up a version, appeared to have caught the senior advocate slightly off-guard.
While Brown has not been formally served with a notice that she is implicated, she has had legal representation at the Commission for most of its sessions since 20 August.
This has been quite remarkable in view of the fact that most of the lawyers for implicated parties appear to come and go depending on whether there is testimony on the day which implicates their client.
Those representing former president Jacob Zuma and his son, Duduzane, the Guptas and arms deal-era adviser, Fana Hlongwana, were out in full force at the State Capture Commission during the testimony of Jonas, former government spokesman, Themba Maseko, former ANC MP, Vytjie Mentor and current acting government DG, Phumla Williams.
But by the time the Guptas application for cross-examination via video link was crushed, the legal bench on the fourth floor pretty much emptied out – except for team Brown whose attorney has been present almost daily.
Yet, there has been but one single mention of Brown since the Commission started on 20 August, that of Jonas who said the reference to her was made by Ajay in the context of a discussion about how the Guptas took care of their people, naming former Eskom CEO, Brian Molefe and Brown.
She was the minister of Public Enterprises during the most critical period of the Gupta heist of state-owned companies, from May 2014 to March 2018.
Down the line, the deals at Eskom, Transnet and Denel would no doubt come up for scrutiny at the Commission, as well as key board appointments made, allegedly with input from the Guptas.
The former minister has been off-grid since her departure from government and when her legal team insisted they pursue the application for cross-examination, she told them that she didn’t want the “this attention” at this time, the Commission heard.
The Commission will go into recess until next Thursday (27 September) when an unspecified application is scheduled to be brought. The Commission’s legal team said it would be inappropriate to divulge details at this stage.
Then, over the course of three weeks starting on 9 October, finance minister, Nhanhla Nene, will appear, followed by current Public Enterprises minister, Pravin Gordhan on 10 October. Barbara Hogan, who had the DPE portfolio until she was fired by Zuma, will testify thereafter.
In addition, the issue of Nene’s firing and the appointment of Des van Rooyen in December 2015 along with his advisers, Mo Bobat and Ian Whitley, is scheduled to come up during the remainder of the Commission’s current phase. DM