SUNDAY TIMES - How Guptas shopped for new minister,,

How Guptas shopped for new minister

Ajay Gupta and his younger brother Atul, right, offered Mcebisi Jonas, far left, the position of finance minister — on condition he purge the Treasury of those opposing a proposed nuclear deal, say sources

President Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane was present when members of the Gupta family offered Deputy Minister Mcebisi Jonas then-finance minister Nhlanhla Nene's job, the Sunday Times can reveal.

Jonas is said to have been offered the finance ministry twice, first by the Guptas at a Sandton hotel on November 27 last year.

The London-based Financial Times reported this week that the Guptas - close friends of Zuma - met Jonas just before Nene was fired, to tell him they wanted him to be the next political head of the National Treasury.

The Guptas said through an attorney yesterday: "There have been an extraordinary number of allegations around the Gupta family in recent weeks, several of which have involved the Finance Ministry. As we have said countless times, our primary focus is on business, not politics. To be absolutely clear: there was no meeting at all, let alone any inferences or cash offers."

But the Sunday Times has established the meeting took place at about 3pm at a Sandton hotel on the last Friday of November.

According to highly placed sources at the Treasury, the meeting was arranged by a fixer - described as a controversial business person and political figure in Gauteng. This was two weeks before Zuma axed Nene. Jonas turned the Guptas down.

Numerous attempts to get comment from Jonas were unsuccessful yesterday.

Presidency spokesman Bongani Majola said only the President had the authority to appoint ministers and deputy ministers. "It is therefore totally unacceptable that anyone would seek to abrogate that responsibility to themselves. Such alleged actions have neither the knowledge, sanction nor support of the President."

Treasury spokeswoman Phumza Macanda declined to comment.

Several highly placed sources in the Treasury and the ANC alliance confirmed to the Sunday Times that Jonas met with Ajay and Atul Gupta, and the president' s son. Duduzane is a business partner of the Gupta brothers in a number of registered companies. He responded to written questions in an e-mail: "There was no such meeting at all. As such your questions are irrelevant."

Of course they do this to prove to those they call that 'whether you like it or not we are in charge

In the meeting, Jonas was told that the job was his if he wanted it - but would come with conditions: he would have to push for the approval of the nuclear procurement programme and clear certain men from the top echelons of the Treasury .

He was given a list of people to get rid of, including director-general Fuzile Lungisa, Ismail Momoniat, Andrew Donaldson and Kenneth Brown. The four, who have been with the Treasury for more than 22 years, are among the fiercest critics of the nuclear procurement programme, which they believe would bankrupt South Africa.

It can't be that we have a state that is run by a family or a grouping of people apart from its elected representatives

Firing them, sources said, would have allowed the family to "capture" the Treasury, as the four vacancies would have been filled by bureaucrats approved by the Guptas.

The nuclear procurement programme was approved by the cabinet on December 9 - clearing the way for nuclear vendors to present proposals to build reactors.

Under Nene, the Treasury had opposed the construction of a proposed six to eight nuclear power stations, saying the project was unaffordable. Experts estimate it could cost as much as R1-trillion.

The Guptas are said to be positioning themselves to benefit from the project through their company Shiva Uranium.

"Jonas, after the offer was made by the Guptas, stood up and left the room. This was not before telling them that they do not run the country. He told us he turned them down as he did not want to be beholden to them," said a source.

MEC for Economic Development Mcebisi Jonas Image: Brian Witbooi /The Herald

Lungisa declined to comment, saying: "Nothing of this sort was ever said to me. I only heard about this after it was published in the papers, but I have no idea."

Momoniat said he was unaware of any plan to remove the four and declined to comment further, while Brown said he was out of the country when the changes at the Treasury took place. Donaldson said he could not comment on the matter.

Jonas is believed to have called ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and Nene to report the Gupta meeting. After the meeting, Jonas, according to sources, also called Duduzane "to tell him to stop what he is doing".

It's quite clear that the Guptas's influence cannot be understated. That's what we need to stop

Mantashe denied receiving a call from Jonas and referred the Sunday Times to the deputy minister.

"Phone Mcebisi and ask him because he is alive. He is not an ancestor. [He] is capable of speaking for himself," said Mantashe.

Nene told the Sunday Times he knew nothing about the meeting and did not recall any conversation with Jonas about a meeting with the Gupta family.

After Jonas turned down the offers to replace Nene, David van Rooyen was appointed finance minister. The markets reacted with shock and the rand plummeted. Zuma removed Van Rooyen and replaced him with Pravin Gordhan.

Insiders this week revealed that Jonas had informed several leaders in the ANC and the tripartite alliance about the offer.

An ANC national executive committee member close to Jonas confirmed that the deputy minister had confided in him.

"There is no way he was not going to say no. He would have compromised himself because it would have meant he was going to report to the [Gupta] compound."

SACP deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila yesterday called on ANC leaders to stop defending the Guptas and take action against them.

"It's quite clear that their influence cannot be understated. That's what we need to stop. It can't be that we have a state that is run by a family or a grouping of people apart from its elected representatives," said Mapaila.

"We call on the movement to have an open discussion about this ... The issue that we have raised now is that their posture has been too reckless, and too boastful and too denigrating and undermining the leadership of our movement.

"Of course they do this to prove to those they call that 'whether you like it or not we are in charge'," he said.,,



In a previous version of this article we stated that Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas was offered the finance ministry twice, first by members of the Gupta family, then by ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte. Duarte's denial of making the offer to Jonas was reflected in the story.

Jonas later issued a statement saying "there was no discussion between the deputy secretary-general of the ANC, Ms Jessie Duarte, and myself on this matter". Our sources for the information were highly placed individuals in the Treasury and the ANC alliance.

All the other information they supplied has proved to be reliable and we had no reason to doubt them. However, we accept that Duarte did not make the offer to Jonas. We retract the statement and apologise to her and the ANC for publishing it.