The Gupta family’s links with President Jacob Zuma are set to be tested in court soon. Ajay Gupta is fighting claims that he offered Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas huge sums to influence decisions in the interests of Gupta business deals. In court papers, Gupta claims he has never seen Jonas. Also at the meeting, detailed by Jonas to former public prosecutor Thuli Madonsela, were allegedly President Zuma’s son Duduzane and businessman Fana Hlongwane – who have both filed affidavits supporting Gupta’s story. So was Jonas hallucinating? Did he see a ghost? Jonas’s story echoes with similarities to an alleged approach by the Guptas to former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, who like Jonas turned down the offer. With many millions of rands at stake in a tangled web of corrupt political and business players, the fight between the Gupta family and those who stand in their way was always going to get ugly. This week, President Zuma came out in public support of the Gupta brothers by taking aim at the big commercial banks which have refused to do business with Gupta entities – on an SABC show sponsored by a Gupta company. Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, meanwhile, has been taking the heat for some time for standing his ground against Gupta moves to sway political decisions. And as the Guptas continue to stir up controversy, these scandals – real or imagined – continue to take their toll on business and investment sentiment. Whether or not Ajay Gupta denies Jonas’s allegations, the relationship between President Zuma and the Gupta brothers appears at the very least inappropriate. Zuma should be distancing himself from the Gupta businesses, not appearing on Gupta-sponsored television shows, if he wants to put paid to the persistent perception that he is so close to the Guptas that his surname might as well be #Zupta. – Jackie Cameron
By Gareth van Zyl
Johannesburg – Businessman Ajay Gupta, in court papers filed on Friday in Tshwane’s North Gauteng High Court, said he’s “never met” Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas.
Ajay Gupta’s affidavit is in response to a court bid filed by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in which he is seeking court protection against being forced by the Guptas to intervene in the matter of the bank account closures of Oakbay Investments.
South Africa’s big four banks closed Oakbay’s accounts last year. Last month, Oakbay Investments filed its affidavit on the matter, only to be followed a week later by a responding affidavit from Gordhan in which the minister called parts of Oakbay’s affidavit “untenable” and “without substance”.
Subsequently, Oakbay Investments acting CEO Ronica Ragavan together with Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma and Fana Hlongwane filed court papers on Friday hitting back at Gordhan.
Ajay Gupta has in particular taken aim at Gordhan over the minister’s reference to parts of former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report, such as a said meeting in which Gupta allegedly offered Jonas the job of minister of finance and money in return for doing favours for the family.
Gupta goes on to claim that the public protector didn’t give him enough time to respond to the allegation and that he never met Jonas.
“On a proper reading and interpretation of the information obtained from the Office of the Public Protector it is evident that the ‘incident’ with Mr Mcebisi Jonas was created in order to support the wave of adverse media attention and to achieve the political advantage obviously gained from creating such a media hype from an incident which never occurred,” said Gupta.
“Let me commence this portion of my affidavit to clearly and unambiguously state under oath that I have never met Mr Mcebisi Jonas, not as alleged or at all.
“The fact of the matter is that Mr Jonas is, with respect, blatantly dishonest when he suggests that he met with me or that I attended a meeting with him.
“I have challenged Mr Jonas, and I do so again, to prove that he met with me as alleged,” said Gupta.
Gupta further goes on in his court papers to ask why Jonas and Gordhan never acted on the said meeting straight after it happened in October 2015 but only five months later.
“I have never met Mr Jonas and until today I can honestly say that I have not spoken a single word to him (as he alleged or at all),” said Gupta.
In Madonsela’s State of Capture report, released in November last year, Jonas said the Gupta family offered him R600 000 in cash during a meeting at their Saxonwold, Johannesburg, residence.
“During the meeting, there was no exchange of pleasantries. Mr Ajay Gupta informed him that they had been gathering intelligence on him and those close to him; he apparently indicated that they were well aware of his activities and his connections to Mr [Gwede] Mantashe and the Treasurer of the ANC, Dr Zweli Mkhize, alleging that he was part of a faction or process towards undermining President Zuma,” the report states.
Jonas said the Guptas informed him that they would make him finance minister.
“Jonas reported that he was shocked and irritated by the statement. He declined the position and informed Mr Ajay Gupta that only the President of the Republic can make such decisions.”
The meeting was attended by controversial businessman Fana Hlongwane and Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma, according to Jonas.
Both Duduzane Zuma and Hlongwane filed affidavits on Friday supporting Gupta’s version of events.
Oakbay hits back
Meanwhile, Ragavan hit back at Gordhan’s responding affidavit by describing it “as being replete with allegations and commentary which is unfounded, irrelevant and scandalous”.
Ragavan said that the State of Capture report “did not make adverse findings as alleged and suggested by the applicant (Gordhan)”.
Ragavan further challenged questions over a R1.3bn amount in relation to the Optimum Rehabilitation Trust.
Last year, Oakbay Resources and Energy Limited confirmed to shareholders that five of its transactions are implicated in a list of 72 transactions, flagged as suspicious by the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) mentioned in Gordhan’s affidavit.
The company then said that claims that R1.3bn was paid from the Optimum Rehabilitation Trust are “untrue” and “defamatory”.
“The suggestion that there was any impropriety in respect of the investment of these funds is misplaced,” said Ragavan.
“The amount had to be moved to a bank account opened for the Optimum Coal Rehabilitation Trust and it is now common cause that the aforesaid account was opened with the Bank of Baroda,” she said.
“There is simply no truth to the Applicant’s (Gordhan’s) attempts to paint the Optimum Coal Rehabilitation Trust as irregular,” she added.
The court hearing on the battle between Gordhan and the Guptas is set to be heard on March 28-29 in Tshwane’s North Gauteng High Court. – Fin24