South Africa

Days of Zondo

Nhlanhla Nene urges EFF to produce ‘incriminating’ PIC dope

Former Finance minister Nhlanhla Nene testifies during Zondo’s commission of inquiry into state capture on October 03, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Testifying at the inquiry, Nene revealed that, in a 2-3 minute meeting, former president Jacob Zuma told Nene he was removing him a finance minister and that he would be deployed at the Brics bank. (Photo by Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

The former finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, has invited EFF leader, Julius Malema, to produce information about claims that his family benefited from the Public Investment Corporation and says the timing of those allegations smacks of payback for placing VBS Mutual Bank under curatorship.

Nhlanhla Nene returned to the State Capture Commission to answer questions arising from a series of damaging media and social media reports that surfaced around the time of his testimony before Justice Raymond Zondo five months ago.

Nene testified on 3 October 2018 amid a storm following allegations that the Public Investment Corporation had funded businesses linked to his son, Siyabonga.

Nene was chairman of the PIC in early 2014 when a company, Indiafrec, then associated with his son, approached the government pension fund manager for cash to buy a stake in Mozambique’s S&S refineries.

While Nene junior later exited the deal, the PIC subsequently acquired a significant stake in S&S and paid Siyabonga Nene’s former partner, Muhammad Mirza, an R18-million referral fee.

Nene denied the allegations or that he had influenced the deal, but resigned days later as the country’s finance minister – this was after confessing at the State Capture Commission to having lied initially about visits to the Guptas’ Saxonwold home in an earlier TV interview.

His appearance on Thursday afternoon dealt with three key questions arising from those media reports – whether he had influenced, in any way, the PIC’s decision to fund the S&S deal, further claims by the EFF who had also threatened to expose him unless he stepped down, and a complaint to the Public Protector by DA MP, David Maynier.

Nene said there was no truth to allegations that his son scored from the PIC, that he had made a written submission to the Public Protector answering the various allegations about his son and, urged the EFF to produce information that may show otherwise.

He said the EFF’s media release containing the allegations may have been “political” as it seemed to have been timed to detract from his initial testimony before the Commission – and because he had played a role in placing VBS Mutual Bank under curatorship, a move that exposed staggering corruption involving municipal investments and poor account holders.

It is common knowledge that there was a link between the EFF and VBS (Mutual Bank) and Floyd Shivambu’s brother benefited from that.”

The application for curatorship was made by the Governor of the Reserve Bank and procedurally sent to Nene for sign-off.

He told the Commission that the EFF’s Floyd Shivambu had sent him a text message around that time, copied to the DG of National Treasury, which stated: “Greetings minister. It looks like VBS will be placed under curatorship.”

Shivambu’s message then referred to something along the lines of it being a sad day when a black-owned bank goes under curatorship, saying, “please assist as it looks like the whole thing would require your approval”.

Nene says he received Shivambu’s text either on 9 or 10 March 2018.

He testified that the decision to put VBS into curatorship was possibly one of the reasons for the EFF’s “attack” on him.

Putting the bank under curatorship was not meant to destroy a black owned entity, but rather, to prevent it from collapsing.”

I found it strange that someone would have wanted to influence my decision on VBS.”

Another possible reason, says Nene, was that he was involved in establishing the terms of reference for the Nugent Commission that investigated governance issues at SARS.

The EFF initially backed this process but then switched sides. He says he believes it may have had something to do with an investigation into known EFF funder, Adriano Mazzotti, whose tax affairs had come under scrutiny again.

He told the Commission that the SARS investigation into Mazzotti had been suspended during the tenure of former tax boss, Tom Moyane, and that since SARS’ renewed efforts against the businessman, the EFF suddenly became an ardent supporter of Moyane.

We may have trampled on toes and the vicious attacks may have been triggered by some of this,” he said.

The EFF had among other things released a press statement on the eve of his testimony on October 3 2018, calling on him to resign or else it would “expose” his “dark secrets”, and claimed that Nene had been “captured” by the Guptas and had been appointed as finance minister courtesy of the Guptas.

Asked why the EFF would have published those claims shortly before his October testimony, Nene said it may have been an attempt to tarnish his reputation and thereby bring his evidence into question.

Nene said he has no knowledge of meetings with dodgy businessmen as claimed by the EFF. He confirmed having met the Guptas, as a courtesy at times, but says he withdrew following the family’s Waterkloof aircraft landing in 2013. He met them twice after he became finance minister in 2014.

With the exception of one instance, the Guptas did not appear to want anything from him. It felt like a “PR exercise” as they were always talking about what “good corporate citizens” they were and that they were not doing business with the government.

He said these friends of then President Jacob Zuma asked him once for advice regarding their spat with the media mogul, Iqbal Survé, relating to the acquisition of the Independent Newspaper group. They wanted to know if they would be precluded from the deal.

The PIC, then chaired by Nene in his capacity as the deputy finance minister, had funded the deal.

Nene said the PIC ought to have all the relevant documentation on this transaction.

Asked if he played any role in this transaction, Nene said: “Absolutely none.”

He did not keep records of those Gupta meetings but has since been able to track them through the logs kept by his former security personnel. He said he generally attended the Gupta meetings by himself and said that, in hindsight, this was not a good call.

On the broader range of allegations contained in those media and social media reports, Nene denied any wrongdoing or knowledge of wrongdoing.

Those included that there were traces of cash “through Dubai” and that Nene was not only linked to the Guptas but also instrumental in funding many of their business deals.

I did deny this under oath. It went on to say my wife received money in a foreign account. Judging from how often my wife is broke, I would also have appreciated a foreign account,” Nene said in jest.

He said his son had exited the oil deal company by the time PIC funding came through and had told him he would not know if there were other payments to his former partner as he was not involved in any of his other companies.

Nene, appearing much more comfortable in the witness box, shared with Justice Zondo the difficulty, at the time, of saying no to the Gupta meetings. He said he could not explain why they sought nothing from him – against testimony by, among others, Themba Maseko.

Perhaps, he said, the Guptas played a two-tiered game, that they were pushy with some officials but behaved differently with others. He does not believe they only acted in this casual manner towards him. There may be others who had a similar experience, he said.

Asked why people in government are not coming forward in significant numbers to help the State Capture Commission, Nene said:

We are not all wired the same. There is always a price to pay and I don’t think everyone is prepared to pay that price.”

He said some may be afraid of losing their positions or fear the “retribution” that may follow.

The Commission resumes on Friday when former deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, returns for cross-examination by the legal teams for Duduzane Zuma and businessman, Fana Hlongwane.

Jonas had testified about their presence in an October 2015 meeting at the Gupta mansion during which one of the Gupta brothers allegedly offered him a R600-million bribe and the job of finance minister in exchange for getting rid of top officials at National Treasury. DM

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