14 July 2024 | 12:16 AM

Sam Sole: Zuma’s treasonous alliance with the Guptas

Key Takeaways


The story we publish today in our view contains all the evidence needed to sustain a prima facie case of money laundering.
This is a crime that involves concealing the origins of illicit benefits to make them appear legitimate.

In this single example, R17,1 million flowed to the Gupta family’s TNA Media, supposedly for advertising.

In reality it appears the amount was a 10% kickback payment on behalf of communications giant Neotel to the Guptas for ensuring that Neotel got a fat Transnet contract.

The payment was made by Neotel’s sub-contractor Techpro to financial advisory firm Regiments Capital, which in turn paid TNA Media.
The invoices justifying the payments appear to have been bogus.

Two people orchestrated this apparent fraud.
They were Eric Wood — a Regiments director who later split from the company because his co-directors refused to sell Regiments to the Guptas — and Ashok Narayan, a former Gupta-company manager who was procuring the payments to TNA Media more than a year after he supposedly left the Guptas’ employ.

In a country with a functioning criminal justice system, one would expect that the police would have already opened a case against Wood and Narayan.

They would be preparing an application in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca) to secure the assets of TNA Media and seeing who else they could pull in via Poca’s very wide racketeering net.

The fact that this prospect is laughable under the present leadership of the Hawks is down to one man: President Jacob Zuma.

What this story does is significantly buttress the allegation that Zuma is at the centre of what is essentially a criminal enterprise, a racketeering conspiracy that is the dark heart of the “state capture” narrative.

To begin with, Zuma has always treated influence peddling as a perk of office. That much was established during the Shaik trial, where there was evidence led of multiple occasions where Zuma lent his name or his appearance to boost Shaik’s business. Shaik, in turn, met Zuma’s appetite for extra cash.

It was, as Judge Hilary Squires termed it, “a mutually beneficial symbiosis”.

But Shaik was a rank amateur compared to the Guptas, who hail from India, where such political and commercial entanglements are endemic and routine.

Shaik merely wanted a slice of the action; the Guptas surveyed the landscape — which included Zuma’s appetites, his political strength and his legal vulnerability — and it appears, concluded they could have the whole cake.

The elements of this poisonous symbiosis — which has damaged state institutions beyond measure — are pretty plain to see.

As in the case of Shaik, Zuma’s role is not passive. It is central to the whole enterprise.

The Guptas are not subtle; they are brazen.

That is evident in the accounts of their influence peddling that have surfaced so far, published by amaBhungane and other media.

Let us take the one that got away: the passenger rail service Prasa.
In 2012 Prasa CEO Lucky Montana wrote a formal letter to his board chair.

The letter told of repeated lobbying efforts by the Guptas on behalf of China South Rail (CSR) to get control of the R51 billion tender for new passenger trains.

Montana wrote: “I had taken issue with the representative of the Gupta family over what I considered to be attempts on their part to ‘extort’ money from [the bidders]… I must also add that the Guptas have presented a plan that I and other people have been allocated shares within CSR, the plan which I rejected contemptuously in the presence of our minister.”

So there we have it: a written allegation of a blatant bribe attempt, made in front of then transport minister Ben Martins.

Were the Hawks called? Were charges laid in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act?

No, because everyone in the room knew that the Guptas enjoyed the support and protection of the president. His son Duduzane was present in meetings and, as their business partner, was a potential beneficiary of this alleged bribe attempt.

Let’s go further back, to 2010, and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor’s claim that she was offered the post of minister of public enterprises at a meeting with Ajay Gupta.

This meeting had been set up by Zuma’s chief of staff and the president was apparently in the next room while Mentor was promised a position, then occupied by Barbara Hogan, if she influenced South African Airways to cede their Mumbai route to India’s Jet Airways.

When she objected, the president was wheeled in.

According to Mentor, she told him: “Mr President I have just been asked to do this and I can’t do it… The president did not take offence to me saying I’m disgusted and I cannot agree. He said: ‘I understand Ntombazana’.”

Hogan has since spoken of how Zuma interfered with her portfolio and of how much pressure she came under to meet with Jet Airways. She was fired in October 2010.

Then there was that strange meeting at Saxonwold in October 2012, where the then acting chief executive of SAA, Vuyisile Kona, was allegedly offered R500 000 by Tony Gupta, again in the presence of Duduzane.

Given all that has emerged, the 2013 landing of the Guptas’ chartered Jet Airways plane at Air Force Base Waterkloof, with a wedding party aboard, seems almost like an innocent romp.

Bruce Koloane, the former chief of state protocol, who took the rap, was formally demoted — and then a year later given a plum ambassadorship.

Last but not least comes the ultimate prize, the finance ministry.
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas has publicly alleged that he was offered the position of finance minister at a meeting at Saxonwold on October 23, 2015.

According to reports, he told then public protector Thuli Madonsela that he was offered R600 000 in cash, with hundreds of millions more to follow if he “worked with” the Guptas.

The meeting was procured by Duduzane, who was also allegedly present.
Jonas refused the offer and informed his boss, finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.

We now know that there was already a “plan B”.

Three days later, on October 26, 2015, the Guptas’ apparent acolyte at Regiments, Eric Wood, sent an email to the Guptas’ proxy, Salim Essa, in which they discussed some major financial projects that could be presented to the “FM”.

A former employee of Wood has stated that this referred not to Nene, but to Des van Rooyen, who, she claims, Wood already knew would be appointed as finance minister to replace Nene.

That indeed came to pass in December 2015, after Van Rooyen spent most of the previous week in the Saxonwold vicinity, according to cellphone records obtained by the public protector.

Of course, the Guptas have denied all these allegations, blaming a political and media conspiracy against them, while using their media outlets to run a propaganda campaign against the president’s opponents.

While the Gupta denials are wearing thin, given the litany of claims and their consistent pattern, their trump card has always been that they have never been charged or convicted of any crime.

What seems clear now is that this is because they have made their vulnerability the president’s vulnerability.

Zuma has, crucially, provided top-cover by systematically suborning the criminal justice system.
When the South African Revenue Service started looking closely at his income and his friends — including the Guptas — Zuma sent in Tom Moyane to stop the rot.

When the Hawks started doing the same, Anwa Dramat was suspended and removed, as was his KwaZulu-Natal counterpart Johan Booysen.

Ditto Robert McBride at the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

When National Director of Public Prosecutions Mxolisi Nxasana refused to play ball, he was removed.

When Western Cape head of detectives Jeremy Veary took charge of the case against Zuma opened by Mentor in May this year, he was immediately ordered to hand over her affidavit to Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza — and found himself demoted a month later.

Meanwhile Zuma has repeatedly defended his relationship with the Guptas and his decision to appoint Van Rooyen — and he’s made it clear he was behind the attempt to have a commission of inquiry appointed into the conduct of the country’s big four banks in closing the Guptas’ accounts.

What the ANC has not confronted is that their president is the very instrument of state capture.

And there is, in my view, a word for that: treason.

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism produced this story. Like it? Bean amaB supporter and help us domore. Know more? Send us
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Buyeleni Sibanyoni and Sam Sole

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