Public protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane says she could not investigate the revelations contained in the Gupta leaks in her report on the Gupta-linked Vrede dairy project in the Free State because investigations were already at an advanced stage when she took office.
Appearing before parliament’s justice and correctional services committee to answer questions on a number of matters relating to the work of her office, Mkhwebane said when she was appointed public protector in October 2016, investigators only focused on the mismanagement of funds into the failed dairy project that was run by the Guptas through their company, Estina.
The controversial family and officials in the Free State agriculture department have been accused of allegedly funnelling more than R200 million meant to benefit emerging black farmers in Vrede. Only R2 million was reportedly spent on the project.
Mkhwebane confirmed to MPs she did receive a copy of the Gupta leaks from the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), but she could not rely on the information, as her office would be accused of using unverified information as evidence.
According to the Gupta leaks, it is alleged the lavish 2013 wedding of the Gupta brothers’ niece at Sun City resort was largely paid for through laundered public funds from the Vrede dairy project. AmaBhungane and Scorpio reported that the Guptas’ Linkway Trading (Pty) Ltd – which was audited by KPMG – was allegedly key in laundering cash earmarked for the project to repay most of the wedding expenses, which amounted to R30 million.
Mkhwebane said the original complaint lodged by the DA on the dairy project did not specially deal with the Sun City wedding. She said the judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture appointed in January would be best suited to deal with the matter.
“When you have to use that information you will have to go and investigate yourself as the public protector. You need to satisfy yourself that the information you have on record, and even if it is taken to court, I am able to defend, unlike taking information which you hear from the media,” Mkhwebane said.
Earlier, committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga had to halt proceedings after a group of Black First Land First (BFL) members stood inside the committee holding banners in support of Mkhwebane.
One placard read: “MPs protecting WMC [white monopoly capital] must be fired.”
Motshekga appealed to the group to either lower their banners or leave the venue.
“We can’t continue the meeting when there is defiance of the committee and the parliament of the republic,” he said.