The testimony of former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas at the state capture commission of inquiry on Friday laid bare the Gupta family’s net worth and how their fortunes were allegedly built on shady dealings with a compromised state.
Jonas was the second witness at the commission, chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, and his testimony centered on the R600 million bribe to him by the Gupta family to become finance minister in 2015, replacing Nhlanhla Nene.
On October 23, 2015, Jonas went to the Hyatt Hotel in Rosebank, assuming that he would be meeting the son of former president Jacob Zuma, Duduzane. Duduzane allegedly asked Jonas to move their meeting from the hotel to the Gupta compound in Saxonwold. The meeting would be also attended by businessman Fana Hlongwane.
Upon arrival at the Gupta residence, Jonas said one of the Gupta brothers – whom he believes was Ajay – began telling him about the family wielding enormous political influence in South Africa and their links to various state organs. Their influence, Jonas said, included the ability to fire and appoint government officials that would help the Gupta family profit from the state. Although this is already known by South Africans, the net worth of the Guptas still remains a large mystery.
But Jonas’s testimony blew the lid on the extent of their profits from various state organs, including government departments and state-owned entities. Jonas said Ajay told him at the October 2015 meeting that the family earned R6 billion from the South African fiscus through doing business with government departments and state-owned entities Eskom and Transnet.
According to Jonas, the Gupta’s wanted to increase their money earned from the fiscus from R6 billion in 2015 to R8 billion through the nuclear deal that South Africa was eyeing. And Jonas would be the man to help the Guptas with their wealth accumulation ambitions.
Guptas target National Treasury
If Jonas accepted the offer to replace Nene as finance minister – which he emphatically rejected – it would precipitate a process in which the credible leadership at the National Treasury would be replaced with Gupta lackeys.
The Gupta master plan, said Jonas, involved the removal of former Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile, the then head of tax and financial sector policy Ismail Momoniat, former deputy director general Andrew Donaldson, and former chief procurement officer Kenneth Brown. “They [the Guptas] determined that the National Treasury was a stumbling block for their growth and wanted me to help them ‘clean up Treasury’,” said Jonas.
When he asked about the nature of the Gupta family’s dealings with the state, Ajay said: “everything they do is legal, they create jobs and contribute to the economy.” Ajay also allegedly told Jonas that the Guptas were in control of “everything.”
“Ajay said to me ‘do you know who you are dealing with? You must understand that we are control of everything; the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority], Hawks, NIA [National Intelligence Agency], and the old man will do everything that we tell him to do.’” The old man is a reference to Zuma.
Death threats and blackmail attempts
Jonas said he was blackmailed by Ajay to accept the ministerial post, as the family claimed to have gathered intelligence information about him. Ajay threatened to destroy his political career and go to the extent of killing him if he ever revealed the meeting that took place at the Gupta residence, he added.
A few days later, Jonas told Pravin Gordhan, the minister of co-operative governance at the time, about the meeting, who convinced him not to resign and advised him to act in the best interest of the country. Jonas defied Ajay, by issuing a media statement in March 2016 claiming that the Guptas offered him the position of finance minister. Zuma eventually fired Jonas and Nene, with “no formality” when they were removed.
The Guptas have rejected all allegations of wrongdoing, including the meeting with Jonas, the R600 million bribe and offer for the finance minister position.