News / South Africa

Makhosandile Zulu
6 minute read
24 Aug 2018
3:33 pm

UPDATE: Hawks tried to kill Saxonwold case ‘as it was DA matter’, Jonas testifies

Makhosandile Zulu

Jonas said he refused to sign a statement drafted by the Hawks - a unit he saw as compromised - that he was 'not a witness' when he was offered the finance minister position.

Former deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas during a board meeting with South African Airways (SAA) on September 09, 2016 in Pretoria, South Africa. During the meeting, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan announced the approval of R5 billion bailout application for the airline. Picture: Gallo Images

Testifying on the third day of the State Capture Inquiry today, former deputy minister of finance Mcebisi Jonas said the Hawks had tried to kill a case involving allegations that he had been offered the position of finance minister by a Gupta brother for R600 million.

The case had been opened by the Congress of the People’s (Cope) Dennis Bloom, who upon opening the case had referred to Jonas’ media statement on the allegations, and Democratic Alliance (DA) member David Maynier, who had referred to a Sunday Times report on the same matter.

Jonas told the commission that he was contacted by then head of the Hawks Berning Ntlemeza, who informed him about the two complaints and that Major-General Zinhle Mnonopi was assigned to the case.

Jonas testified that when Mnonopi contacted him, the major-general told him that the case was a DA matter, that Jonas did not want to help the DA, and that the Hawks wanted to kill the case.

Mnonopi told Jonas that the Hawks were drafting a statement that would kill the case and that Jonas would have to sign the statement which intimated that he, Jonas, was not a witness in the matter, had not opened a case and did not intend to open a case against any person, and did not wish to make a statement.

Jonas said he refused to sign the statement drafted by the Hawks, adding that he had not been surprised by the Hawks’ approach at the time because he viewed the unit as being compromised.

Jonas also outlined how he and now public enterprise minister Pravin Gordhan were isolated and operated in a hostile political environment as allegations of state capture against former President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family surfaced.

Jonas said it was not easy to trust anyone as the criminal justice system at the time was in crisis. The entire Treasury and then cooperative governance minister Gordhan were isolated politically and from government business. Gordhan remained Jonas’ confidante following a R600 million bribe he alleges the Gupta family offered him in return for favours if he was promoted to finance minister.

”We were never informed about anything, we would be told late at night while in bed to wake up and watch television [for new developments]. We were isolated. The functioning of Treasury suffered a knock, confidence in the ministry was lost as we were isolated.”

He said the removal in December 2015 of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister, whom Zuma replaced with Des van Rooyen, dealt a blow to South Africa and wiped out billions of rands worth of investments.

”The markets tumbled, billions were lost, the rand weakened…the country took a downward trend from there.”

Commission evidence leader Phillip Mokoena asked Jonas: ”Tell us, how did that affect the credit ratings?”

Jonas replied: ”The ratings were very bad. We were probably in the worst state as a country since the dawn of democracy. I don’t think we have recovered from that. The situation was aggravated, I think, by the talks to take out debt to finance the nuclear deal…we [Treasury] believed that South Africa could not afford nuclear as it was structured. It was not justifiable or ethical to raise that huge amount of debt for our future generation [to grapple with].”

Van Rooyen, an ANC backbencher at the time, was replaced four days later with Gordhan following significant public pressure on Zuma. Zuma later fired Gordhan and Jonas in 2017.

Jonas’s legal representative Wim Trengrove was told by commission chairperson, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, that he would need to apply to the inquiry if he needed to cross-examine his client.

“I would think that, probably, clarification questions could be passed on to the inquiry’s legal team. I am open to persuasion,” said Zondo.

Present at the inquiry were Gordhan, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor and former Sars spokesman Adrian Lackay.

Jonas earlier gave detailed evidence of his meeting on October 23, 2015, with one of the Gupta brothers, the son of former president Jacob Zuma, Duduzane Zuma and Fana Hlongwana at the Gupta family residence in Saxonworld, where he was allegedly offered the position of Finance Minister and an R600 million inducement.

Jonas was testifying on the third day of the State Capture inquiry on Friday where he told the commission of how one of the Gupta brothers, Ajay or possibly Rajesh, had not only made the offers but had also threatened to use information in his position to destroy the then deputy minister’s political career before later threatening his life if he disclosed that the meeting had taken place.

The Gupta brother also revealed to Jonas that the controversial family had control over the then president, Zuma, The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the Hawks and the National Intelligence Agency and that former minister of public enterprises Lynne Brown and Former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe worked closely with the Guptas, enjoying the family’s protection.

Jonas said the Gupta brother told him during the meeting that through various government entities, including Eskom, Transnet and government departments, the family was earning an estimated R6 billion from the fiscus.

“He said that they wanted to increase this amount to R8 billion and that they thought I could be helpful in this regard. Mr Gupta said that they had determined that the National Treasury was a stumbling block for their growth and that they wanted to, I quote, ‘clean up Treasury’,” Jonas said.

The Gupta brother allegedly said removing then Treasury director-general Lungisa Fuzile, head of tax and financial sector policy Ismail Momoniat, the deputy director general Andrew Donaldson and then chief of procurement Kenneth Brown would be one of Jonas’ first tasks once appointed as minister.

“Further, he said that he would provide me with the replacement of all of these people and that they would provide me with the necessary support including advisors,” Jonas said.

The former deputy minister of finance said he decided to share the information of the meeting with people he trusted at the time, which include then minister of Cooperate Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Pravin Gordhan and then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene – Jonas was meant to replace Nene – whom he told about the meeting on the balcony of his office, fearing the office was being monitored.

“At this point in time, I did not see any point in reporting the matter to either the police or the Hawks as I believed that these institutions were seriously compromised and I saw no reasonable prospect of this matter being properly and fairly investigated.

“This was both at a general level, by then president Zuma had secured loyal intelligence and security apparatuses by weeding out most of the experienced, technical and capable in the various institutions, and at a personal level, given the threatening statements which had been made by Mr Gupta during the course of the meeting. I anticipated that reporting the matter would simply result in reprisals against me,” Jonas said.

Jonas said the young Zuma and Fana Hlongwana had arranged the meeting on October 23, 2015, and that the two had remained silent during the meeting.

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