STATE CAPTURE ARCHIVE
A library like no other: Zondo Commission records get a home
A petabyte of material – evidence, exhibits, #GuptaLeaks hard drives, and more – will be kept by the Department of Justice to help law enforcement to go after the State Capture bad guys.
The mammoth task of converting large volumes of physical and digital material from the State Capture Commission of Inquiry into a one-of-a-kind e-library has begun.
Once done, this will be a legal digital library of unprecedented volume and one that will hold as much interest internationally as it does for South Africa.
Assembling material from a range of sources formed part of the process of creating the State Capture library.
Now all the records, documents, evidence, exhibits, correspondence and reports of the commission will have to be preserved, catalogued and indexed to enable access for, among others, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and the Hawks in order for them to drive criminal and civil litigation.
Run at a cost of just over R1-billion, the commission produced a final report comprising six volumes of material that now define the extent of fraud and corruption in the public sector, primarily under former president Jacob Zuma.
Barring a few ceremonial issues, control and management of the entire data set is being handed to the Department of Justice as its final custodian.
The commission’s working digital library, along with evidence and exhibits gathered over nearly five years, make up about one petabyte, a digital storage measurement that is roughly 100,000 scanned copies of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Though much of the material has been a matter of public record, the commission gathered substantially more than it documented on its website during its lifespan.
This includes information or evidence, either classified or deemed confidential, that never made it on to the commission’s website but forms part of the overall digital record.
The record also holds the key to a blueprint for a corruption-proof future South Africa and comprises actionable evidence in support of recommendations for law enforcement to arrest, charge and attempt to successfully prosecute those responsible for State Capture.
And it provides direction for a multitude of government departments and agencies, regulators and Parliament to initiate, drive and effect policy and legislative reforms needed to make sure State Capture never again happens with the ease it did.
For now, this legal library sits on an electronic server in a secure location.
The commission itself is currently in transition and a small group of staff is scheduled to migrate to the Department of Justice to continue with the project.
At this stage, there is no indication of costs but, given that the material is electronic and will run on expensive software, it is vital that it is adequately provided for.
Similarly, because of the sheer volume of the material and the likely need for it in future court proceedings, another important consideration is for it to be collated, catalogued and indexed with precision.
The Department of Justice is the custodian of all archives flowing from presidential commissions of inquiry. It already holds records pertaining to, among others, the Seriti Commission into South Africa’s controversial arms deal, the Public Investment Corporation Commission and what is commonly referred to as the Nugent Commission into governance at SARS.
In response to questions from Daily Maverick, the commission’s secretariat said that it was, for now, in control of all the assets.
But, flowing from a policy engagement between commission chairperson Justice Raymond Zondo and President Cyril Ramaphosa, all the records and assets of the commission will soon be placed under the custodianship of the Department of Justice.
All material has been converted to digital form but hard copies will be retained. The physical materials and the digital servers will be housed in the same library. The electronic library and the commission’s data centre will be a permanent facility and information will be made available as and when required.
Such requests are currently being considered through applications under section 71 of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
During the life of the commission, it posted transcripts of daily proceedings, along with the affidavits submitted by witnesses testifying and accompanying annexures.
These communiques make up only part of the commission’s record. In its entirety, the record includes internal communications and correspondence between the commission staff and implicated parties or their lawyers.
It also holds confidential material such as cellphone, bank and Financial Intelligence Centre reports or tax records.
Classified information submitted as part of proceedings will remain classified.
Law enforcement or any other party seeking such material will have to send requests directly to State Security, the commission said. And the availability of some material will be subject to rulings handed down by Zondo during proceedings.
Geared up for extraction
The NPA, the Hawks and the SIU have confirmed to Daily Maverick that their investigators have access to the material.
There will not be a free-for-all dive into the commission’s record of evidence.
In the case of the NPA, it is not involved in the direct extraction of information from systems of the commission.
Instead, requests under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act are submitted (until now to the commission and henceforth to the Department of Justice) for specific sets of information by teams working on particular matters.
This is to ensure the integrity of the material, the NPA’s Investigating Directorate (ID), tasked with prosecuting State Capture crimes, told Daily Maverick in a written response to questions.
The ID – responsible for prosecuting the Guptas and others implicated in high-profile criminal cases flowing from dodgy deals at Transnet, Eskom, South African Airways, Bosasa and the SA Police Service – has expert financial analysis teams in place to handle the complex data.
The ID has 14 companies on a panel for digital forensics, as and when required.
The commission pulled off an extraordinary job in collecting data on State Capture, corruption and fraud across state-owned companies and national and provincial government departments, with strands running all the way to Zuma’s office.
If done properly, this digital library will benefit the government, law enforcement, regulators, public entities and research bodies for years to come.
The archive will also become the “forever home” of the #GuptaLeaks.
The commission has, since 2018, been the custodian of #GuptaLeaks hard drives, the trove of leaked emails from the Gupta enterprise that exposed State Capture.
The original hard drive, another drive forensically mirrored in Europe, and additional copies used by investigators, will now have a permanent home. DM 168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.