Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor’s testimony before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture has been met with reservations after travel records contradicted certain aspects of her evidence.
On Monday, Mentor took the stand to defend the testimony she gave before the commission in August last year. She will be the first witness to be cross-examined.
During her earlier testimony, Mentor detailed two encounters with the controversial Gupta brothers: In August 2010, during a state trip to China and two months later at a clandestine meeting at the Gupta’s Saxonwold compound.
Mentor told the commission in August 2018 that on a flight to Beijing via Dubai, she was approached by former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane.
At the time she alleged that Duduzane Zuma was accompanied by Fana Hlongwane, adviser to former defence minister Joe Modise, who is said to have benefited from the 1999 arms deal. She later retracted this part of her testimony in a letter sent to the commission in November last year.
Mentor also alleged that she met a man whom she identified as Rajesh Gupta on the flight to China. Rajesh sometimes goes by the name ‘Tony’.
She told the commission that all three Gupta brothers — Ajay, Rajesh and Atul — were at a conference in China.
Mentor told the commission that at the conference in China, she realised that the three Gupta brothers were seemingly coordinating the event. She claimed that one evening, she was summoned to meet with then president Jacob Zuma by a man whom she deduced was a member of the Gupta family.
On Tuesday, Advocate Mahlape Sello — who led Mentor’s evidence — revealed that the commission had obtained travel records from the department of home affairs relating to the Gupta brothers, Hlongwane, Duduzane Zuma and Mentor.
According to Sello, these records show that Atul Gupta had not left the country at the time of the China trip. Flight records from Emirates also show that Atul Gupta did not use the airline in August 2010.
Mentor countered, saying that it is well-known that Atul Gupta used more than four different passports. But Sello told the commission that all these passports are reflected in the home affairs records.
Mentor’s testimony that she had travelled to Johannesburg on a Monday in October at Jacob Zuma’s behest was also contradicted by travel records. In her previous testimony, Mentor alleged that she flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg, where she was met by Atul and Rajesh Gupta.
According to Mentor, the pair whisked her away to the Sahara offices in Midrand where she was met by Gupta patriarch, Ajay. According to Mentor, she was then taken to the the Gupta compound where she was offered the job of public enterprises minister by Ajay Gupta.
Sello revealed however that records from South African Airways (SAA) do not show Mentor travelling from Cape Town to Johannesburg in October 2010.
Mentor took issue with SAA’s flight records because they do not correspond with Parliament’s travel records. “They are not a true reflection of my travels,” Mentor told the commission.
Sello conceded that records from Parliament show two flights taken by Mentor that are not reflected on the SAA record. Parliaments records revealed that Mentor had flown between Cape Town and Johannesburg on October 15 2010, which was a Friday.
However, Mentor was adamant she travelled to Johannesburg on a Monday after receiving a request from Zuma’s presidential aide, Lakela Kaunda, on a Sunday evening.
“I am very clear in my mind that it was a Monday chair … I am crystal clear about that,” Mentor said.
In an affidavit to the commission, Ajay Gupta 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 Guptas were denied leave to cross-examine Mentor because of their unwillingness to appear before the commission in person.