/ 27 September 2018

Ajay Gupta: Vytjie Mentor’s state capture testimony riddled with lies

In the affidavit
In the affidavit, Ajay dismissed Mentor’s testimony saying there were substantial disputes of fact. (Martin Rhodes/Business Day)

Vytjie Mentor did not tell the truth about her 2010 meeting with the Gupta family during her testimony at the state capture inquiry because as members of the Hindu faith who maintain a strictly vegetarian diet, there’s no way they could have offered her “chopped up sheep” at their Saxonwold compound.

This is according to an affidavit submitted by the family’s patriarch, Ajay, to the state of capture commission, chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

“We are of the Hindu religion and maintain a strictly vegetarian diet. It is anathema to suggest that meat of any form let alone in the form of chopped up sheep would be allowed to enter our home‚ let alone enter our kitchen and form part of a meal prepared and served in our home‚” he states.

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In the affidavit, Ajay dismissed Mentor’s testimony saying there were substantial disputes of fact, including a number of “glaring faults and weaknesses”. Cross-examination was needed “to test the reliability of the witness that has given evidence before the Commission,” he said. The commission has denied him permission to cross-examine because he refused to appear in person before it to give his version.

In the affidavit, Ajay denies offering the former ANC MP the position of public enterprises minister‚ adding that neither he nor any entities which he has an interest in has ever had a partnership with an airline, let alone the India-based Jet Airlines.

In a now infamous Facebook post and during the second week of the Zondo commission, Mentor claimed the politically connected family offered her the position of public enterprises minister in exchange for cancelling the South African Airways (SAA) route to India. The cancellation of this route was allegedly set to benefit Jet Airways and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways.

But, according to Ajay, Mentor could not have met with former president Jacob Zuma at his family’s Saxonwold home in 2010‚ as she testified at the commission because of descriptions she gave about the layout of the Gupta home.

Mentor further alleged that Zuma was at the Guptas’ home when the alleged bribe attempt was made, though at the time Zuma denied having any recollection of Mentor or the events which she alleges occurred.

Addressing the Cape Town Press Club as a member of the SA First Forum in September 2016, Mentor said of Zuma: “It might be that he appears clever. I think he is actually sly. He is very efficiently sly. It is exactly for that reason that the apparatus of the governing party is largely of patronage.”

Other points of contention for Ajay include testimony provided by Mentor alleging he wears a ring on his index finger — a “pointing finger” ring — as Mentor described it. “In fact, I wear two gold rings each containing a white diamond and the ring belonging to my father I wear on my middle finger. Clearly Ms Mentor has either been given distorted information or somehow picked up that I wear a ring to buttress her story,” Ajay states.

He further rubbished Mentor’s claims that his brothers went to fetch her from OR Tambo International Airport and took her to the premises of Sahara Computers‚ wearing dark glasses and holding a placard bearing her name.

“In fact‚ neither my brother‚ Atul‚ who was the chairman of our group of companies at the time, nor my brother Rajesh have ever undertaken the basic function of fetching people from the airport‚ let alone brandishing a placard bearing the name of any person‚ nor did they wear telecommunications earpieces … together with dark glasses and suits such as which security people wear‚” he reportedly said.

Ajay said it was “disturbing” that Mentor suggested that he offered her the use of the Gupta suite at Newlands. “This sounds like the kind of thing I would say in the normal course of my interaction with any other person, as we did have a suite at Newlands Stadium”.

“Where she says that I offered her son a cricket bat, this is also indeed the kind of offer I used to make to people out of sheer generosity and as a gesture of goodwill.”

He said all this was “not to confirm at all that I had a meeting with her [Mentor] at Sahara Computers, as described, or ever at all”.

“I say this because there appears to be an outside influence on Ms Mentor, where she appears to have acquired or been fed snippets of information which fit with the way I behave in life in general.”

On Mentor’s allegation that the Guptas were, or claimed to be‚ part of Zuma’s “advance team” to China‚ Ajay said the trip was no different to other presidential visits and that the president was “as usual, accompanied by a number of South African Ministers, as well as many South African businessmen representing their various business interests”.

“This is a normal occurrence on such State visits, as one of the aims of such visits is to develop and foster bilateral business relationships between the two countries involved. This trip was no different in that regard from other Presidential visits to other countries of this nature.”

Zuma’s son‚ Duduzane‚ also attended the state visit “on behalf of his company Mabangela”.

Ajay denied that Duduzane introduced Rajesh‚ as well as Fana Hlongwane — controversial arms deal adviser and businessperson — to her on a flight to China. He added that in her interview with the public protector, Mentor had said Duduzane wore his hair in dreadlocks, but to Ajay’s “certain knowledge Duduzane Zuma has never adopted that hairstyle and has never had his hair in dreadlocks.”

In response to former government communications head Themba Maseko’s testimony, Ajay denies trying to bully him into channelling government’s R600-million advertising budget to Gupta-owned media companies.

“I deny that I claimed to be able to discipline any government official who failed to carry out my demands‚” he states‚ adding that he knew “nothing of and was not involved in (in the event that it took place) any phone call made by then president Jacob Zuma to Mr Maseko on the day he came to see me at Saxonwold”.

Maseko testified that Zuma had asked him‚ during that call‚ to “help” the Guptas. The nature of that assistance is understood to have meant giving government ad spend to the family’s media companies.

All he was trying to do when he met with Maseko, Ajay says, was “to get clarity on the policies and practices of the GCIS in the awarding of (government) advertising”.