Sunday Times responds to ‘fake’ Gupta indictment

The Sunday Times has admitted that the document on which it based its front page story- claimed to be an official indictment against the Gupta family and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane – was identical to a guideline document drafted by the DA last year.

The Sunday Times reported that “Zwane is accused No1” in the Estina dairy farm case, in Vrede, Free State . The newspaper said that it had received “news of a finalised indictment”, which stated that the Gupta brothers – Atul, Ajay and Rajesh – and their associates face charges of money laundering, acquiring and possessing the proceeds of unlawful activity, and assisting others to benefit from unlawful activities.

Sunday Times editor Bongani Siqoko said on Tuesday that the newspaper received a document from senior prosecutors, which passed its verification processes.

“Our story was based on a document provided to us by senior prosecutorial officials, and it was identified to us as an official indictment,” Siqoko said in an email to the Mail & Guardian. “Given the seniority of these officials and the communications channel they used to relay the document to us, I was satisfied that the lead met our ethical criteria, standard and requirement tests applied to all our news stories,” he added. “However, had it come to our attention at the time that the indictment sent to us was identical to the one drafted by the DA, we would have still published the story. But we would have treated it differently after interrogating these officials regarding the origin of the indictment.”

The Democratic Alliance has confirmed that a document purported to be an indictment against the Gupta family and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane is actually a “guideline” the party gave to the Hawks when it filed a complaint against the Estina dairy farm in 2017.

It is unclear how the document, circulated widely on social media on Monday, was then claimed to be a legitimate indictment.

Glynnis Breytenbach, a DA MP and the shadow minister of justice, said that the document was drafted when the party presented evidence to the Hawks to open an investigation into a dairy farm in Vrede, Free State.

“It is an indictment I drafted for use by the Hawks as a guideline. It was included in our complaint last year along with all the supporting documents to back up our complaint,” Breytenbach said.

In August 2017, DA leader Mmusi Maimane and Breytenbach handed over a dossier to the Hawks which included evidence – based on the #GuptaLeaks – that the Gupta family and Zwane “stole almost R200-million of public funds” from the Estina dairy farm.

In the press announcement posted on the DA website, the party linked the indictment it had drafted, which is exactly the same as the one that began circulating on Monday.

The DA document was meant to serve as a means of direction to the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate the Estina allegations and begin charging and prosecuting those involved.

On Monday, the document was circulated on whatsapp. But the metadata revealed that the file was scanned on August 23 2017 – the day before the DA announced it had filed the Estina complaint at the Hawks. An attachment to the papers created from SearchWorks traces back to the name of a DA MP. The digital trace on the documents comprehensively show that they were prepared by the party.

The Free State high court issued a preservation order on January 18 which said that assets related to the Estina case are to be preserved and bank accounts of those who unlawfully benefitted from the farm, which includes Atul Gupta, are to be frozen. The National Prosecuting Authority, however, has denied that it issued the indictment sheet that has been shared.

“We are professionals, that is not our document. We know how to craft these documents,” said NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku.

The Estina case has drawn attention because it is the first to directly implicate a Gupta family member in criminal activity. After the Sunday Times published its story on the indictment, the NPA denied that there was any indictment sheet in the Estina matter.

“As the NPA‚ we are on record as saying that the investigations in respect of some of the legs of some of the State of Capture investigations‚ are at an advanced stage. However‚ at this stage they are not finalised‚ therefore you cannot talk about an indictment before the investigation process is finalised… an indictment is a product of a fully investigated docket where you are in a position to say: ‘These are the charges that we are going to prefer [and] against whom these charges are going to be preferred’‚” Mfaku told eNCA on Sunday.”We dismiss the article by the Sunday Times as really concerning and we believe that the people who are their sources‚ are not part of the investigation and the prosecuting team because those teams know exactly where we are at. We have just had briefings with them where these issues were ventilated relating to the approval of the seizure‚” he added. — Additional reporting by Phillip de Wet

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Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.

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