Testifying on Wednesday, former Denel CEO, Riaz Saloojee, described three different meetings with the Guptas – one at which Gigaba was present, a second where the Guptas hauled out the son of former president Jacob Zuma, Duduzane – supposedly as a “show of force” – and a third, during which he was asked why he didn’t take money.
Saloojee was ousted as CEO of Denel in 2015, shortly after Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown had installed a new board and despite having achieved huge success in Denel’s turn-around strategy over a three-year period.
He said the Saxonwold visits were triggered by a call from Gupta kingpin, Salim Essa, a few months after his appointment.
At that stage he had been aware of the Guptas and had met Essa in public spaces.
Essa said some people had wanted to meet with him and that it would be in the interest of Denel.
Essa allegedly told him that it was important to attend this meeting as he had support “at the highest level”.
This Saloojee said he assumed was a reference to Zuma.
Essa fetched him for the meeting. “He drove me to the Gupta residence in Saxonwold. I was not aware that was their home.”
Upon arrival for that first meeting in 2012, Essa allegedly again told him: “Don’t worry, this has the support from the top.”
Saloojee was taken into the first room at the property where he was introduced to Rajesh “Tony” Gupta and shortly after, he was ushered into a second room –this time to find Gigaba sitting with another Gupta brother whom he now knows as Atul.
Atul then said “minister, this is the new CEO of Denel”. Bizarre, as the appointment of parastatal CEO’s will have required sign-off from the minister of Public Enterprises before it was ratified by Cabinet.
“He (the Gupta brother) was trying to demonstrate that he had a relationship with my political principal,” said Saloojee.
“Hello, how are you Riaz.” Gigaba allegedly said, making some small talk about Denel before allegedly telling him: “These are friends and if there is something you can do together with them, it would be good.”
Essa drove him back.
“My only view on this meeting was that it was a display of the influence the Guptas had and the extent of it.
“Here I was asked to go to a meeting and when I get there, there sits the minister.”
This “show of force” lasted all of seven minutes, Saloojee said.
He would be summoned by Essa a second time a few weeks later. This time it didn’t sound like an invitation with Essa allegedly having said “we want you to come to a meeting”.
“I felt there was some pressure put on me. I was very reluctant to attend but there were issues that I had to take into account.
I felt I could listen to them but would be able to manage it. There was also an element of curiosity about what these people wanted.”
And, having seen Gigaba at the initial meeting, Saloojee said, it would have been naïve to say that played no role in his decision to attend this meeting.
And, he definitely didn’t want the Guptas walking into a meeting at his Denel office.
Now arriving at the Saxonwold compound, he found Tony Gupta with Essa and they introduced him to Duduzane Zuma.
“Another person who was briefly there was referred to as Ace Magashule’s son.
Saloojee said he was told “he works with us”.
Essa took the lead: “He said to me that I should understand that they had supported my appointment. “
This is despite Saloojee, an MK veteran – he was a Colonel at age 34 – who had spent years in the SADF before joining SAAB SA as CEO, had gone through a rigorous recruitment process for his Denel job.
Saloojee joined the ANC’s military wing as an 18-year old and returned to SA after spending years in exile and became a member of the sub-council on defence that negotiated the integration of liberation forces and the SADF.
“What was more interesting, was when he said they had the support of Number One, ‘the old man’ with Zuma’s son sitting there.”
At this point Essa informed him that the Guptas wanted to do business in Asia and this involved Denel.
Tony Gupta said Essa was their representative for this business mission.
Saloojee said it became clear they wanted to enter the defence environment and had identified Denel as a potential vehicle through which this could be done.
He had the street smarts to know what they wanted and developed a constant refrain in his head: “I consistently said if they had a value proposition to bring, it should come through in line with proper process.”
Essa called him a few times after this second meeting but a snowed-under Saloojee avoided those calls until he eventually told Essa he had been very busy.
This time Essa asked him to come to a third meeting in Saxonwold.
“Tony Gupta and Essa were in the meeting. This is where I became quite tense.”
Tony Gupta said: “You are not co-operating and this lack of co-operation is a serious issue.”
Tony then allegedly told him that he did not want to elevate this further.
This suggested they either planned to complain to Gigaba or Zuma, said Saloojee.
“Obviously a threat.”
While not easily intimidated, Saloojee says he listened to them and again told them he had no problem doing business with them, that they should do it in the proper way.
Tony Gupta even tried to claim credit for having worked “extremely hard” to help lift Denel’s blacklisting in India.
This Saloojee figured was nonsense as South Africa’s own legal and diplomatic processes had in fact been used to resolve the decade-long ban.
And, he wanted to know why Denel, unlike the other parastatals, were not supporting the family’s New Agenewspaper.
Saloojee said he explained Denel’s financial constraints as his staff had previously done when approached by Gupta suits.
As the meeting ended, they walked out with him and this was when Tony Gupta allegedly asked him: “Why don’t you take money?”
“Everyone takes money,” he allegedly said.
Saloojee says he looked the Gupta brother straight in the eye and told him: “I don’t take money.”
His testimony continues on Wednesday afternoon. DM