/ 26 April 2021

It never happened, Gama says as he too is implicated in receiving bags of Gupta cash

Former Transnet Ceo Siyabonga Gama Testifies At Zondo Commission In South Africa
Former Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama. (Papi Morake/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

“It didn’t happen,” former Transnet chief executive Siyabonga Gama said repeatedly on Monday when it was his turn, after Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh, to be confronted at the Zondo commission with testimony from a former company driver that he received bags of cash from the Gupta family.

Evidence leader Anton Myburgh read from an affidavit deposed by Witness 2 detailing how, on 13 June 2017, he allegedly collected a zipper bag from Salim Essa — described by Myburgh as the “money-laundering lieutenant”  of the Gupta family — in a parking lot at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, at Gama’s instruction. 

He then proceeded to collect Gama at the African Pride hotel and drove him to the home of one of his close friends in Bryanston. 

According to Witness 2, Myburgh said, Gama opened the bag and asked him to help count the cash. It came to about R1-million.

Gama took half the money to give to his friend and left the other half in the bag, after handing R50 000 to the driver as a gift.

Witness 2 testified that he took some of the money to pay for construction material because he was “busy building my house in Soweto”, but left the remainder in the back of the vehicle he used to drive from Melrose Arch to Bryanston.

“None of this happened, it is a fiction,” Gama countered. 

He said furthermore, that he doubted the driver was even on duty on 13 June. 

“On this specific day that he refers to I have attached for your reference what actually transpired … It was at a meeting in Pretoria … I think I have attached minutes of that meeting also,” he said.

But Myburgh noted that the Transnet board meeting in question began at 5.30pm and lasted for about half an hour. It, therefore, did not preclude a visit to Bryanston at close to 11pm as per the driver’s affidavit.

According to Witness 2, Gama on another occasion emerged from the Gupta residence in Saxonwold with a suitcase and asked to be driven to the Maslow hotel in Sandton, where he met with one Mr Jiyane. 

(Myburgh did not mention Jiyane’s first name. However, in August last year it was reported in testimony at the Zondo commission that Thamsanqa Jiyane, who worked at Transnet, had met Gama at the Maslow.) 

According to Witness 2, Gama then asked the driver to fetch the bag from his car and to put it in Jiyane’s white Mercedes SL. The driver said he took the keys and, after putting the bag in the Mercedes, decided to open it out of curiosity. 

It was stuffed with bundles of R50 and R100 notes, he alleged.

Gama flatly denied this too, saying like a refrain as Myburgh read out the witness’s testimony: “It never happened.”

Myburgh added that according to Witness 2, cash was collected from Essa on three occasions. Again, Gama replied: “It didn’t happen.”

He conceded that he did sometimes frequent the Maslow, and also that he has a close friend who lives at the Bryanston address cited by the driver in his affidavit. After hours on the witness stand, Gama wearily said the driver’s testimony sounded like that of somebody who was coaxed to graft outlandish lies on to bland facts.

“He tries to be flavourful,” he added and likened this to adding “masala” to food.

Myburgh suggested he should take the driver’s testimony more seriously, because the commission was going to lead evidence that there was “a money dispenser” inside the Guptas’ home.

In testimony to the commission in March, Gama said that he only once visited the Saxonwold home of the family at the heart of the state capture scandal, after Essa asked him to meet and gave him an unknown address.

He told the commission a rather awkward 10-minute meeting with Tony Gupta ensued and he afterwards expressed his displeasure to Essa, to the effect that: “You shouldn’t ambush me and bring me to people’s home.”

The commission has in recent months dealt at length with the testimony of three Transnet drivers, identified only as witnesses 1, 2 and 3 to protect their identity, who were assigned to former chief executive Molefe, former chief financial officer Singh and Gama, respectively.

In March, Molefe conceded that he may have carried a bag after visiting the family’s home, but denied it contained money.

Last week, Myburgh confronted Singh with an invoice showing that the Gupta family footed his hotel bill at the five-star Oberoi hotel in Dubai, to which he replied: “This is not me.”

Singh has likewise flatly denied evidence from his driver that he regularly collected bags of cash from the Gupta family, then asked to be driven to the Knox Vault safety deposit boxes, of which he kept a total of eight. He went as far as suggesting that either Transnet or the commission’s investigators guided the witness to draft a “compelling, detailed” but false affidavit. On Monday, he said he suspected that the witness was “induced” by Transnet to implicate him in corruption.

It emerged last week that Singh kept more than 20 bank accounts while he was a Transnet executive.

Additional measures have been in place to ensure the safety of the three unnamed drivers after Witness 1 survived an apparent assassination attempt in early March.

Gama was fired for misconduct in 2010, but was reinstated the following year after Malusi Gigaba became minister of public enterprises. He went on to become chief executive in 2014. Four years later, he was again fired for misconduct, this time relating to a R54.4-billion tender for 1,064 locomotives — considered one of the biggest scandals of the state capture project — which allegedly saw R5-billion in kickbacks flow to the Gupta brothers and Essa.