The Free State provincial government spent more on advertising in Gupta-owned publications than any other province between 2011 and 2018, the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Monday.
The commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — heard expert evidence from Jan Gilliland, an accounting officer at National Treasury. Gilliland was tasked by the commission’s investigators to ascertain what payments were made by government departments to Gupta-owned companies Infinity Media and The New Age (TNA).
Gilliland told the commission that, after tracking and tracing amounts paid to the two companies through Treasury’s Basic Accounting System (BAS), he found that a total of R79.3-million was paid to Infinity Media and TNA by the Free State provincial government.
The BAS is a database in which government transactions are recorded.
KwaZulu-Natal and the North West province were the second and third biggest spenders on Gupta-media spots, paying the entities R25-million and R23.8-million respectively.
Gilliland found that the office of the Free State premier spent R53-million out of this R79.3-million. The rest was paid by other provincial government departments. The province’s premier at the time was Ace Magashule. Magashule was elected ANC secretary general in 2017 and vacated the office of the premier in 2018.
Magashule’s ties to the Guptas have been scrutinised since it emerged that his son, Tshepiso, had workerked for a Gupta-owned company.
Tshepiso Magashule was employed by Mabengela Investments — a company belonging to the youngest Gupta brother, Tony, and former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane. In a January press briefing at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters Magashule admitted to his son’s links to the Guptas: “My son has been working for the Guptas. It has never been a secret. When I became premier, he was working for the Guptas … but he is not involved with Vrede dairy.”
Magashule was fielding questions relating to the Vrede dairy farm scandal, in which he was implicated in his capacity as Free State premier.
The week before, the national prosecuting authority’s asset forfeiture unit had seized the Gupta-linked farm in an effort to recover more than R1-billion in allegedly looted funds.
According to reports, from 2013 to 2016, the Free State government gave Estina more than R200-million for the dairy project, which was established as a poverty alleviation initiative. The farm was gifted to Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease.
However, less than 1% of the money was spent on farming with the remainder allegedly siphoned to the Guptas. Magashule’s office was subsequently raided by the Hawks in relation to the scandal.
A report compiled by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane and released in February made no findings against Magashule. But in March, Mkhwebane admitted to leaving information out of her final report on the farm that pertained to the Gupta family and their political connections.