Mentor decries Zondo commission ‘grilling’

Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor feels her credibility has been undermined throughout her testimony, the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Tuesday.

During her appearance before the commission on Tuesday, Mentor complained that her evidence has not been treated by the commission’s evidence leaders fairly. “Chair for the better part of me being on the witness stand … I have felt that I have had to deal with in the main issues that are not corroborating in any way my version,” Mentor said.

“I have felt that I have been … questioned all the way and all the time,” she added.

Mentor raised the complaint after a statement from former MP Dennis Bloem was put to her by Advocate Mahlape Sello. Bloem’s statement was submitted to the commission to back up Mentor’s claim that she had told him about a clandestine meeting at the Gupta family Saxonwold compound “in or around” October 2010.

READ MORE: Zondo commission: Mentor claims to be put to the test

Mentor claimed that at the meeting Gupta patriarch, Ajay, offered her the job of public enterprises minister in exchange for her co-operation in shutting down the South African Airways route to Mumbai. She further alleged that former president Jacob Zuma emerged from one of the rooms in the residence to calm her down after she refused the offer.

In a statement to the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, Mentor said she told former members of Parliament’s portfolio committee on intelligence — including Bloem and Hlengiwe Mgabadeli — about the meeting.

Bloem’s statement confirmed this, but differed slightly to Mentor’s version of events.

In his statement, Bloem said Mentor asked to speak to him about the meeting in August 2010. He further claimed Mentor told him she was invited to the Saxonwold compound. “I was not invited,” Mentor responded.

Mentor’s counsel, Anthony Gotz SC, interrupted Sello’s questioning to object to how Bloem’s statement was been put to his client. Gotz suggested that Bloem’s statement had not been referred to in a balanced way, adding that this has been a trend in the way Mentor’s evidence has thus far been led.

In his rebuttal, Sello explained that Mentor must be given an opportunity to speak to the discrepancies between her testimony and Bloem’s statement.

Zondo emphasised that the commission must treat the evidence before it objectively. “We look at what may corroborate you. We look at what may not corroborate you,” he told Mentor.

“I can assure you that this legal team is not intending to favour your version or not favour your version.”

READ MORE: Mentor trips up under the spotlight

Mentor first appeared before the commission in August last year. The credibility of her evidence has come under scrutiny after she stumbled on recalling certain facts.

In her earlier testimony, Mentor conceded that she found it difficult to distinguish between the Gupta brothers, specifically Ajay and Atul. She also admitted to having mistakenly named Brian Hlongwa in her 2017 book No Holy Cows as having accompanied the Guptas on a trip to China. She had meant to name Fana Hlongwane, adviser to former defence minister Joe Modise, who is said to have benefited from the 1999 arms deal.

“It comes as an issue of confusing Hlongwa and Hlongwane but I know for certain that that man was not the former MEC for health in Gauteng,” she said.

Mentor subsequently retracted the aspect of her statement relating to Hlongwane. Her lawyers wrote to the Zondo commission to explain that she realised she had made a mistake in identifying Hlongwane.

“Our client accordingly wishes to concede that she made an error in identifying the person introduced to her, in the circumstances our client wishes to furnish and hereby give a sincere apology to Mr Hlongwane for any embarrassment and/or adverse imputation which the mistake might have caused,” her lawyers said.

On Monday, aspects of Mentor’s testimony were contradicted by travel records gathered by the commission.

In her testimony last year, 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 family’s Saxonwold home.

At the time Mentor told the commission that on a flight to Beijing via Dubai, she was approached by former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane.

Mentor claimed 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.

On Monday, Sello revealed that the commission had obtained travel records from the department of home affairs relating to the Gupta brothers and Duduzane Zuma.

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.

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

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.

On Tuesday, Gotz complained that much more focus had been put on Atul Gupta’s absence than on the corroborating evidence which placed Duduzane Zuma, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta on the flight.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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