Human rights lawyer Brian Currin told the commission of inquiry into state capture that the “country owes a huge debt” to two whistle-blowers who first gained access to a hard drive containing 300 000 #GuptaLeaks emails.
Currin — who was involved in the formation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — was testifying before the commission on Thursday about his role in helping the whistle-blowers to flee the country for their safety. He also spoke about the process of leaking the emails to the media, blowing the lid on the Gupta family’s intricate network of corruption.
The emails include correspondence between Gupta family members, former president Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane, leading government officials and officials from state-owned enterprises.
Before Currin’s testimony, the head of the legal team Paul Pretorius SC presented an application to commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that sought to submit the hard drive and “clones” of the original drive as evidence.
Currin told the commission that one of the whistle-blowers, referred to as “Stan” to protect his identity, approached Currin’s friend in confidence to get advice on how to deal with the hard drive that was in his possession.
The friend, who Currin says would also like to remain anonymous, told him about the whistle-blower and the data because he felt that Currin would have better connections to deal with this situation.
When Currin eventually met Stan for the first time, he says the whistle-blower was nervous and “looked like he wanted to offload”. During this meeting, Stan indicated that he hadn’t read all the emails on the drive but had read enough to understand they were important and related to state capture.
“He also indicated that the that the information on the hard drive contained emails from someone named Mr Ashu Chawla,” Currin said.
Chawla is the former chief executive of Sahara Computers and has been implicated in several Gupta-linked activities.
During the meeting, Stan also revealed to Currin that his close friend was in possession of a clone of the original hard drive and that there were two CDs containing some of the emails on the hard drive. Currin says after going through some of the emails on the CDs, he felt that he was “willing to take this [case] and see how one could take it further”.
Currin told the commission that he and Stan talked about taking the data to the relevant law enforcement agencies but says that “given the situation in the country at the time, we decided that was not a route we were going to follow” as they felt that they could not trust these agencies completely.
Currin and the two whistle-blowers discussed a way forward and decided that it would be best to leak some of the emails to the media because the content was “in the public interest”.
They also decided that the whistle-blowers and their families needed to leave the country for their safety but that this would need funding, which Currin started organising.
At this stage, Currin said he knew that The Daily Maverick and amaBhungane were leaders in investigative reporting on the Guptas. He contacted Section27’s Mark Heywood who put him into contact with Stefaans Brümmer of amaBhungane and Branko Brkic of the Daily Maverick. Currin shared one the CDs with them and says Brummer got back to him saying the emails “fitted very well” with their reporting on the Guptas and helped to fill in certain gaps.
Currin says he emphasised that the emails on the CD could only be published after the whistle-blowers had left the country and says he was shocked when the Sunday Times broke the #GuptaLeaks story in May 2017 because he wasn’t in contact with them.
The two whistle-blowers had to leave South Africa in June/July of 2017 shortly after the story broke. Currin says they agreed that they would leave the country for two years and then see if the political climate in the country has changed.
Currin says at that time, “in their minds they envisaged that they might never return to South Africa” because they didn’t anticipate any change in the country’s politics but that that might change next year June, which marks two years. Currin says though, that he is not at liberty to say whether they’ll return in 2019.
Currin met with the whistle-blowers early this year and they decided to hand over all the hard drives to the state capture commission because “it was clear that the political climate in the country was changing” with the “election of President Ramaphosa and the election of the DCJ Zondo to head the commission.”