/ 2 November 2016

Guptas wanted heads to roll in ‘stumbling block’ treasury

Trillian received multiple mentions in former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report.
Trillian received multiple mentions in former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report.

Ajay Gupta believed treasury was a “stumbling block” in the family’s business ambitions – and heads needed to roll.

This is one of the startling allegations contained in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s controversial State of Capture report into allegations of improper and unethical conduct by president Jacob Zuma in relation to the Gupta family and their ability to influence the organs of state.

Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas told Madonsela that Ajay Gupta had indicated to him that he was to be appointed the new finance minister, to take over from Nhlanhla Nene.

“As part of the offer to become finance minister, Jonas would be expected to remove the current director general of treasury and other key members of the executive management,” read Madonsela’s report.

He also saw fit to tell Jonas that his family had made Duduzane Zuma a “billionaire” and that the president’s son has a house in Dubai.

Madonsela subpoenaed former finance minister Des van Rooyen’s phone records to establish his whereabouts, specifically on December 8, the day Nene was fired.

“Van Rooyen was at Saxonwold on December 8 2015,” her report states.

“The records further show that Mr Van Rooyen frequently visits Saxonwold.

“Mr Ajay Gupta denied that Mr Van Rooyen visits his residence during my interview with him,” Madonsela wrote.

She published an analysis of 19 phone calls and SMSes sent and received by Van Rooyen on various dates whilst at the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound.

The first visit was seemingly on October 30. It is seven days after they met with Jonas, who declined their offer to become minister of finance.

The last meeting Van Rooyen’s cellphone records have captured was on Valentine’s Day this year.

Eskom captured?
As part of the investigation into Gupta influence over state-owned entities, the country’s power utility, Eskom and it’s various board members also came under the spotlight during the public protector’s investigation.

On page 122 of the report, Madonsela states how her investigation, to examine potential conflicts of interest, had used cellphone records between the Gupta family and various individuals, including Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe and Ajay Gupta.

From this, Madonsela was able to establish that between August 2 2015 and March 22 2016, Molefe called Ajay Gupta 44 times while Ajay called him a total of 14 times.

She also used records to place Molefe in the Saxonwold area 19 times between August 5 2015 and November 17 2015.

Saxonwold is the Johannesburg suburb where the Gupta family resides.

Previous public revelations by Themba Maseko, the former chief executive of Government Communications, were included in the report.

Maseko, in his interview with Madonsela, detailed how the Guptas had pestered him for a meeting to which he finally agreed to sometime in late 2010.

On the day of the meeting, as he was driving out of the GCIS building in Pretoria, he received a call from a personal assistant at President Zuma’s official residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu saying: “Ubaba ufuna ukukhuluma nawe” ( the president wants to talk to you.)

Zuma came on the line and greeted him, before adding: “kuna labafana bakwaGupta badinga uncedo lwakho. Ngicela ubancede” (the Gupta brothers need your help, please help them.)

Maseko told Zuma that he was already on his way to a meeting with the family at their Saxonwold home. Zuma responded “kulungile ke baba” (it’s fine then).

At this meeting Ajay Gupta told Maseko about plans to establish The New Age newspaper and said he needed government advertising to be channeled to them.

Maseko, who was in charge of GCIS’s R600m a year media budget at the time, told Ajay this was not possible; that individual departments handled their own advertising budgets.

According to the public protector report, Ajay then told Maseko this was not a problem as “he would instruct the departments to advertise in the newspaper”.

Apparently Ajay said something along the lines of “tell us where the funds are and inform the departments to provide the funds to you and if they refuse, we will deal with them. If you have a problem with any department, we will summon ministers here.”

Maseko said he was unhappy with Ajay’s comments about how his family intended dealing with uncooperative ministers.

A few weeks later he received a call from one of the Gupta employees requesting a meeting. When he suggested they meet the following week, the employee said: “I am not asking you. I am telling you. The meeting has to happen. It is urgent because of the launch of the newspaper.”

Shortly after “Mr A Gupta called to tell him ‘I will talk to your seniors in government and you will be sorted out’.”

Barbara Hogan told the public protector that, during her short tenure as minister of public enterprises, Zuma took a specific interest in the appointment of board members to Eskom and Transnet. 

Zuma apparently made it “very difficult” for Hogan to do her job, at one point not even allowing her to appoint a director-general.

During a state visit to India in 2010, she observed how the Gupta family took control of proceedings and directed the programme.

It was also during this visit that the chief executive of Jet Airways continually asked for a meeting with Hogan. When she later inquired with then SAA board chairperson Cheryl Carolus, Hogan was told that Jet Airways had been lobbying SAA to cease operating on the Johannesburg to Mumbai route, something the national carrier were not willing to do.