South Africa

Days Of Zondo

Life of Brian: The courageous behind-the-scenes story behind the #Guptaleaks unravels as lawyer testifies

Veteran Lawyer Brian Currin testified about the trail of the #Guptaleaks data before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry on September 27, 2018. Photo: EWN Livestream screen grab.

Veteran Lawyer Brian Currin used a long career in human rights to turn around South Africa's story - with a little help from whistleblowers, campaigners and a journalist or five

Brian Currin, who turned 68 years old last week, capped a lifelong and illustrious career in human rights and human rights law when it emerged at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry on Thursday that he was the crucial link between the whistle-blowers in possession of the Gupta family’s leaked emails and getting these into the public domain.

Currin testified before Judge Raymond Zondo on Thursday about how he came into possession of the emails and the steps he took to protect the chain of evidence to get to the point of today’s application for the leaks to be formalised into evidence before the commission of inquiry.  

The emails are likely to form a crucial part of the commission’s work. 

The lawyer, now based in Berlin, Germany and surrounded at the commission by a ring of protectors, revealed how “Stan” and “John”, two ordinary South Africans, had come to him (via a friend) with a hard-drive of about 300,000 emails. These seemed to hold the key to tying up evidence of how the family had run a network to capture South Africa’s government and its state-owned enterprises. 

Currin used his networks in civil society and the wider world of human rights to help get their story told.  He gave one set of the emails to veteran activist and campaigner Mark Heywood who, in turn, brought in the independent investigative journalism platforms of Daily Maverick and amaBhunganeto assess the emails. 

Daily Maverick’s editor, Branko Brkic and Heywood tried to raise funds to secure safe passage out of South Africa for the two men and their families.  They put a team to work, auditing the emails and corroborating it with their own reporting over years into the Gupta affairs. It was a painstaking and long investigation. 

Currin, meanwhile, also worked with the whistle-blowers to get their stories turned into documents of law – affidavits which he placed into security at Norton Rose Fulbright attorneys. 

This is evidence of how his wide networks and how they were used to change the course of South Africa’s contemporary history.  

In time, the affidavits may come before the commission if the whistle-blowers appear before it.  Right now, they remain exiled from their country and fearful of returning to it.  Currin revealed how he and the team of investigative journalists had planned to publish the emails and what they meant in September last year after working with the whistle-blowers for most of the year.

In May last year, the Sunday Times stole a march on them and published a scoop.  This, said Currin, had caused the whistle-blowers “huge anxiety” and impacted their trust in the process.  

Currin was also the lawyer who first took a statement from apartheid policeman Dirk Coetzee who revealed evidence of police hit-squads in the late 80s. 

His work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in the wider field of human rights law saw him establish a global practice in peace-building.  He has worked in Northern Ireland, Spain’s Basque Country and most recently in Colombia in talks between its government and FARC guerrillas.  

In Germany on a fellowship in Berlin, Currin is currently studying trends in private-public sector relationship and how they reflect political order or political decay. DM