South Africa


Mkhwebane ignored Treasury red flags, #Guptaleaks evidence verifying Vrede shakedown, inquiry hears

Mkhwebane ignored Treasury red flags, #Guptaleaks evidence verifying Vrede shakedown, inquiry hears
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane at Cape Town high court on 25 July 2022 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach)

The role of the media in uncovering the Vrede Dairy scandal in 2013 — later corroborated by the publication of the #Guptaleaks in 2017 — was highlighted at the Section 194 inquiry into suspended Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s fitness to hold office.

On resumption of the hearings on Thursday, evidence leader Advocate Nazreen Bawa set out how the media had exposed the R250-million Gupta-linked scam in 2013 already.

The project was established in 2012 on Krynaauslust Farm near Vrede the Free State, then premier Ace Magashule’s domain. 

By 2017 the Public Protector’s office, under former incumbent Thuli Madonsela and suspended incumbent, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, had prepared several drafts of the Vrede dairy money laundering operation.

That same year the #Guptaleaks broke, corroborating what had already been exposed not only by the media, but also a Treasury investigation by a senior economist.

What the leaks did prove was that R30-million in public funds meant for the Vrede project went towards the Sun City nuptials of the Guptas’ niece, Vega in 2013.

That was the same year the family commandeered the Waterkloof Airforce base, a National Key Point, as a personal airport to offload guests.

The #GuptaLeaks also revealed that the Free State provincial government picked up the tab for the “event of the millennium”, as it was described by a guest, KPMG Africa then-chief executive Moses Kgosana.

Bawa on Thursday set out merits and made observations on a Pretoria high court judgment by Judge Ronel Tolmay setting aside Mkhwebane’s 2018 Estina Report. The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) later dismissed the PP’s application to appeal this judgment.

Committee members heard how six months prior to issuing her report, further evidence that sought to illustrate how the Gupta family controlled the project was published in the media and also in the treasury investigation, which had recommended disciplinary action be taken.

The court had compared a provisional report on Vrede completed during Madonsela’s term with the version released by Mkhwebane in 2018 and had found that Mkhwebane’s scope had been “too narrow”.

There had been no logical explanation for this narrowing of the scope, the courts found. Mkhwebane had responded to this change of focus saying that she had run out of funds and resources.

In the process, the story and the fate of the supposed beneficiaries of the “flagship” Estina project aimed at “uplifting lives” was simply left out.

The only lives that were uplifted were those of the Gupta family and their A-list guest list of who’s who in SA politics at the time who attended their wedding.

The Big Fat Gupta Wedding: Volume 4 (and 5)

Colleague Rebecca Davis at the time wrote after Daily Maverick had obtained the #Guptaleaks, that “we also didn’t know some of the other fun facts around the wedding”.

These included that Iqbal Survé had attempted “to lobby the Guptas for a better-quality hotel room for the weekend, that about R105,000 worth of crockery went missing during the wedding, including frying pans and bread baskets”. 

Also, the emails showed, wrote Davis, “the Guptas demanded that as many white women as possible cater to the whims of their minister-studded guest list”. 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

By February 2019 the Gupta family had still not settled the total R30-million bill.

Bawa set out that evidence is that Mkhwebane had not investigated the role of Premier Ace Magashule, then MEC for Agriculture, Mosebenzi Zwane, or the role of former president Jacob Zuma and the Guptas in Estina the matter.

Mkhwebane had said that when she took office in 2016 she sourced four more documents, conducted three interviews, conducted one inspection in loco (in baby pine Valentino rockstuds we now know), she consulted one website to confirm details of the company involved.

The high court had found that these steps had seemed “wholly inadequate considering the magnitude and the scope of the complaints raised”.

Advocate Dali Mpofu, representing Mkhwebane, previously told the committee the suspended PP had done more in one year about the Vrede dairy matter than Madonsela had done in four.

In excusing her conduct, Mkhwebane had also claimed to have had no information on the beneficiaries while evidence is that in 2017, then DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, had actually physically brought the aspirant farmers to her office.

She had also been provided with ID numbers, addresses and cell phone numbers. In the end, Mkhwebane failed to hear their evidence, committee members heard.

The committee was taken by Bawa through the differences in Madonsela and Mkwebane’s reports and where gap existed. Bawa said the court had also heard that independent reports had indicated that the price for cows and the processing equipment “had been considerably higher than market value”.

Mkhwebane, revisiting the findings of the report revised these to read in her final report; “the allegations that the prices for goods and services were inflated, specifically expenses in respect of construction, processing and procurement of cows is difficult to determine”.

“Her explanation was that Estina did not follow public procurement process and due to lack of resources and financial constraints she was not able to determine fair market determination and was not provided with invoices,” said Bawa.

She said that the Treasury report by a senior economist had raised a number of red flags that should have been investigated further.

Public Protector investigator, Advocate Nditsheni Raedani, was due to testify on Thursday morning but was delayed.

Mkhwebane was suspended from office on 9 June. The parliamentary impeachment hearings got underway on July 11.

The inquiry continues. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Anne Felgate says:

    Lots of dirty laundry being aired.
    Good that the staff have their chance to say how it was under her control.
    Just proves what an expensive incompetent person she is.
    The lengthy hearings are just uncovering more and more of her disastrous tenure.
    And shows just how competent and efficient the previous Public Protector was. And how she saved South Africa with her interventions. She deserves an award.
    Great to have such good reporting
    Crisp and to the point

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