LONDON — Gradually, then suddenly. Eight years ago, trade union leader Gideon du Plessis made it his life’s mission to nail the crony capitalists who destroyed 5,300 jobs and stole assets worth R1.5bn at once flourishing Aurora Gold mine. Du Plessis is 90% of the way to completing the task – but has now discovered that after paying back some of the money, one of the central characters, Khulubuse Zuma, has done a Gupta-like midnight flit to Dubai. Solidarity’s general secretary says the SA president’s nephew has secured permanent residence in the UAE and has been living there for the past year. But Du Plessis says this won’t save Zuma Jnr who submitted a fraudulent statement of his assets to SA’s court and is poised to be sequestrated in December. – Alec Hogg
Well, it’s a warm welcome now to Gideon du Plessis, who is the general secretary of the trade union Solidarity. He’s talking to us from Johannesburg. Gideon, you’ve issued a statement today to say you believe that Khulubuse Zuma, the President’s nephew, appears to have skipped the country. What makes you feel this?
Well, in the first instance we got a tip-off from a very credible journalist. We then followed up with Khulubuse’s attorneys that he used all along in all the cases we had against him, and whilst he was a director of Aurora and all of his various attorneys that he’s used all confirm that they struggle to get hold of him and none of them had any idea where they find themselves. We then followed up with the journalist who gave us the individual who gave him the tip-off, and then we spoke to somebody with links at the Department of Home Affairs who indicated that they got the information from Home Affairs that already in 2016 he secured permanent residence in the UAE. We are just waiting for the official documentation confirmation but all indications are that we are onto the truth here.
So, Khulubuse Zuma has got a significant debt outstanding and that’s really your interest in this affair. Just take us through what happened with Aurora and how much money he still owes, according to the courts?
Well, after Aurora Empowerment Systems took over the management of the Pamodzi Mines for an interim period. They physically destroyed the mines as they were selling off some of the mining assets and they also did not do any maintenance on any of the mines. The end result was that the court found, in 2015, and that was the High Court in Pretoria. It was Judge Bertelsman who found that damage and the replacement value, after damaged causes was R1.5bn. Khulubuse Zuma, Zondwa Mandela, Thulani Ngubana, Fazel and Solly Bhana who were the directors, were then all held liable in their personal capacity and it’s a joint and civil liability. The end result was that together with Solidarity and the attorneys representing the Pamodzi and Aurora liquidators, we entered into an agreement with all the individuals and the arrangement with Khulubuse Zuma was that he would be liable for a R23m payment. He disclosed his financials and indicated that that’s the maximum he could afford. We then concluded the deal and all along he paid his R5m initially, then R500,000 per month and all along he was the only individual who paid diligently. Whilst all the other individuals, after a month or two, they started to remake on their agreements. Then in July, when there was a default on Khulubuse Zuma, the liquidators started to struggle to get hold of him. They informed all of the attorneys who represented him in the past that the next aspect will be that a Sequestration Application will be launched because that was part of the agreement and if he’s in default then he’ll also be liable for the full R1.5bn. The next moment R200,000 was paid into the bank account of the Aurora liquidators by Khulubuse Zuma but they still couldn’t get hold of him. Then they launched the Sequestration Application against him and that is when the one thing led to the next where, initially, we got the tip-off that he actually left the country and that he is in the UAE at the moment and that he’s also got permanent residence so, from hereon there will be a few other legal processes that will follow and on the 8th December the Durban High Court will then hear the Application for his Sequestration but we already have a strong feeling that since he’s out of the country that he will not oppose the Application so, the Sequestration Award will then be obtained early December this year, against Khulubuse Zuma.
There’s some significant implications of this. First of all, the guy does have R23m in assets. It’s hard to understand how he might have accumulated those. Are there any insights that you can offer?
Yes, after we concluded the deal we discovered that he is holding various directorships of various companies, 34 companies in total. Then we’ve also analysed the so-called Panama papers, where he was also linked to various other oil deals in the Congo for instance. We then established that he submitted fraudulent information at the time that we concluded the deal and we have also discovered that nearly all of these assets were either sold or he repatriated quite a bit of money out of the country. But what will happen on the 8th, as soon as a trustee who will act as a liquidator appointed by the Master of the High Court, the first thing we’ll obviously see is if he’s got any assets left in the country then that will be attached and it will be sold and then we need to take that specific order and we need to approach the appropriate court in the UAE, also to confirm that they will also accept that order. In terms of the Insolvency Act that’s the process that needs to be followed and then his assets in the UAE can be attached but on top of it the Insolvency Act also indicates that it’s a criminal offence if you basically leave the country as a result or for a reason to get out of a specific deal or to avoid creditors.
So there is some kind of a treaty with the UAE, we’re talking about Dubai, Abu Dhabi, which of the two is he living in?
That we could not confirm at this stage and unfortunately the treaties that we have with the UAE are political treaties and trade treaties. So, we don’t have a specific treaty. It’s only with African countries, where SA has that kind of arrangement in place where an order in an SA Court will merely be endorsed in another Court. But we will obviously now use pressure and place pressure on the Embassy of the UAE and, also use other political parties to assist us in applying pressure but we don’t expect that this will be an easy process but we will, nevertheless, do anything to make sure that the 5,300 employees who were severely prejudiced that at least, they can see that we’re still fighting for them.
Gideon, you do mention at the end of your statement that you are concerned that Khulubuse has gone to the UAE for reasons other than just getting out of paying his debts.
Yes, the specific individual that we interacted with regarding the confirmation that Khulubuse has obtained citizenship or at least, permanent residence in the UAE. He also indicated that, according to the intelligence that he has is that Duduzane Zuma and Khulubuse Zuma might be the individuals who are responsible for repatriating President Jacob Zuma’s money and assets out of the country. That is pure speculation, at this stage, but we’ve been trying for a long time to see if there’s a link between Khulubuse Zuma and, also the Guptas so, that’s something that we will explore. At this stage it’s speculation but we think we will also get a lot of substance around it.
So, he might be there making the pathway perhaps, for other members of the Zuma family?
That’s what we believe that should we get to December and the Presidential Elections don’t go the way of the Zuma family, then it’s very likely that President Zuma will then, as an act of last resort, need to leave the country and then we are just starting to tie up the dots and we believe that we can see a pattern here that that might be the exit strategy for President Zuma as well.
What about Solly and Fazel Bhana, and the other people who were involved with this court action, the other people who should have been paying back money over the Aurora disaster?
Yes, Solly and Fazel already received a preliminary Sequestration Order against them on the 13th October. It’s the return date in the Pretoria High Court. It’s very likely that a final Sequestration Order will then be obtained and then Thulani Ngubane and Zondwa Mandela have also failed to comply with their agreements and their Application will only be lodged within the next 3 weeks for them also to be sequestrated so, basically, it’s all in process and the good thing is that after all the sequestrations an insolvency enquiry will then take place into their financial dealings, and that is part of the legal process that the law prescribes. So, obviously, we believe we will obtain a lot of information regarding their financial dealings and the partners they’ve been involved with over the past few years.
Gideon, why have you pursued these people to the degree that you have?
Alec, it was in April 2009, when I had to address the Pamodzi workers at the President Steyn Mine in Welkom, and on a soccer field where I was busy addressing all the workers and their families. They were all sitting there, you could see they were worried, children were crying, spouses were crying, the workers sitting there and they didn’t know what was going to happen to them after Pamodzi went into liquidation. At that moment I just felt these are people that cannot fight for themselves and they are in a situation where they are totally innocent. I felt that it was my calling to fight for those 5,300 workers and to make sure that we get in there and we get to a situation where they can feel justice has been served. Financially, obviously, I would like them to get a lot of money into their pockets but I also know that they want to see that the SA Rule of Law is still something that they can rely on and that basically became my mission to make sure we see this matter through and to make sure that those perpetrators can run but the message is, they cannot hide.
Gideon du Plessis is the general secretary of Solidarity.