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‘My son-in-law made a mistake’ — Jessie Duarte

ANC deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte has admitted that her son-in-law, Ian Whitley, “made a mistake to accept” a position in the office of four-day former finance minister Des van Rooyen.

Duarte was responding to allegations by economist Lumkile Mondi that her children work for the controversial family. Mondi made the allegations during an interview on eNCA.

“I in fact asked my son-in-law not to go and work for national treasury because of the context that nobody works for national treasury unless you’ve actually been screened by a particular group of people,” Duarte told eNCA on Tuesday.

“I think my son-in-law made a mistake to accept the offer that was made to him to be a chief-of-staff in the office of Mr Des van Rooyen.”

On December 9 2015 van Rooyen was appointed finance minister, bringing along two advisers with him. The advisers, Ian Whitley and Mohamed Bobat, were allegedly handpicked by the Guptas.

In a letter to Business Day last year, Duarte wrote that she had advised Whitley — who had called her for advice — “never to work in the Treasury because it was controlled by a cabal”. Duarte said she regretted that Whitley did not follow her advice.

She took the Mail & Guardian to the press ombudsman in 2016 following an articlewhere the M&G had drawn connections with Duarte, her former husband and son-in-law and Gupta associates.

According to Duarte, these connections were “damaging” because the ordinary reader — even with the M&G’s warning on the article that the links were indisputable in some cases and circumstantial and minor in others— “would or could conclude that she was in business and could be susceptible to influence to benefit the Gupta family”.

The ombudsman instructed the M&G to apologise to Duarte but the ruling was overturned on appeal by the appeals panel of the press council.

READ MORE: Van Rooyen lost no time in the treasury

Van Rooyen was plucked from relative obscurity to replace then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene.

He only held the position for four days before then-president Jacob Zuma rescinded his appointment, following strong political and market reaction to the move. At the time Whitley caused a stir with serious questions raised over how a mid-level banker had been appointed as an adviser to the minister.

Investigators for the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture have been tasked to discover what exactly Van Rooyen did during his tenure as finance minister.

Last month the commission heard how in October 2015 Ajay Gupta allegedly offered the deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas the position at the helm of the finance ministry in exchange for his co-operation — two months before Nene was removed from office.

Whitley’s counterpart, Bobat, had been employed by Gupta-linked Trillian. TheSunday Times had reported at the time that Bobat was the adviser who shared the confidential documents with Trillian chief executive Eric Wood — who would later share the documents with Gupta business associate Salim Essa.

Van Rooyen’s appointment, as well as that of Whitley and Bobat, formed part of the key allegations investigated in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s state of capture report.

Madonsela’s report noted that it was “worrying” that Van Rooyen could be placed in Saxonwold, the suburb where the Guptas resided at the time, on at least seven occasions, including on the day before he was announced as minister. Both Jonas and former MP Vytjie Mentor have alleged they were offered positions in Zuma’s Cabinet during meetings at the Gupta compound.

Ajay Gupta denied that Van Rooyen had visited his residence.

Duarte told eNCA that it is well known that Whitely’s appointment would be probed at the Zondo commission and that she is “happy about that”.She said Mondi should testify at the Zondo commission if he has evidence of any of her children working for the Guptas.

When Van Rooyen was moved to the ministry of local and co-operative governance in December that year, Bobat and Whitley moved with him.

Duarte had denied any involvement in placing her son-in-law into the position of chief-of-staff for Van Rooyen’s office. According to a Star newspaper report at the time, Duarte had not introduced Whitley to Van Rooyen. 

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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