Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene met with Gupta patriarch, Ajay, during his tenure as deputy finance minister, but they did not discuss business matters. This is according to Nene’s testimony before the commission of inquiry into state capture on Wednesday.
During his testimony before the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — Nene conceded that he had met with Ajay Gupta on a number of occasions, but said these meetings were simply a “PR exercise” by the controversial figure to demonstrate that he was a good corporate citizen.
This week a Business Day report detailed allegations that Nene had held several meetings with the family during his tenure as deputy finance minister and later in his capacity as finance minister.
During these meetings the Gupta brothers allegedly demanded Nene’s intervention in getting them in on the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) deal which funded Iqbal Survé’s takeover of Independent News and Media group. At the time Nene was the chair of the PIC.
In his testimony on Wednesday, Nene revealed that he had visited the Gupta compound in Saxonwold for tea on three occasions: once in 2010 and two more times in 2014.
Nene told the commission that during the 2010 meeting he had felt no pressure to discuss business and that Gupta had in fact made it clear that the family does not do business with the state. Nene was deputy finance minister at the time.
He met again with Gupta in 2014, when he was finance minister.
Advocate Paul Pretorius, who led Nene’s testimony, asked the minister why he was willing to meet Gupta despite a 2013 investigation by treasury into the Gupta-linked Estina dairy farm.
Nene said that, although he was more suspicious of the family’s agenda at this point, he “saw no harm” in honouring the invitations.
During one of these meetings Gupta allegedly raised the loan made by the PIC to Survé. According to Nene, Gupta had only asked for clarification on why the Guptas had been excluded from the deal. Nene said he told Gupta that if he had any further queries, he ought to raise it with the PIC.
Nene said he had received no inducement from the Guptas in this regard.
Nene also denied further allegations, levelled by the Economic Freedom Fighters, that he had ever intervened inappropriately in the dealings of the PIC.
In a statement released on Tuesday, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) made note of Nene’s alleged relationship with the Guptas.
The statement said what the Business Day report reveals is that throughout Nene’s tenure as finance minister, he was “captured by the Guptas and worked for them”.
The EFF questioned Nene’s refusal to answer questions it had posed to him about his relationship with the Guptas, accusing the minister of not following parliamentary rules and procedures.
“What all these developments reveal is that Nhlanhla Nene is not an honest and respectable minister we all thought he was,” the statement reads. “He is a crook who would do anything to assume a leadership responsibility, even at the expense of principles.”
Speaking to media on Tuesday, EFF leader Julius Malema said his party would approach the courts should Nene “lie” under oath. “He must answer honourably. Otherwise, we will approach the court for perjury,” Malema said.
“I deny that I have ever acted inappropriately with regard to any investments made by the PIC,” Nene told the commission on Wednesday.