Bongo brings up domestic abuse case involving his bribery accuser
Former state security minister Bongani Bongo has launched a scathing attack on the man who accused him of offering a bribe in exchange for his help in collapsing an inquiry into state capture at Eskom.
The assault came during cross-examination of advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara, evidence leader in a parliamentary inquiry into malfeasance at state-owned enterprises Eskom, Denel and Transnet, at the start of Bongo’s corruption trial in the Cape Town high court.
Bongo’s senior counsel, Michael Hellens, accused Vanara of misinterpreting a conversation he had with Bongo during a meeting at his office in parliament on October 10 2017.
Vanara alleged that during the meeting, Bongo claimed he was sent by acting Eskom board chairperson Zethembe Khoza, and asked Vanara to assist “the people of Eskom” to stop or delay the inquiry, in exchange for which he could name a price they would pay to him.
Bongo has denied the offer, and said he called the meeting because he had to report back to the ANC top six about the legal quandary caused by two inquiries into the capture of state-owned enterprises, namely the parliamentary probe and what is now known as the Zondo commission.
The former minister said he wanted to discuss “lawyer to lawyer” whether it was in SA’s interests to go through both processes, given that they could make conflicting findings.
Vanara testified he did not know Bongo was a lawyer and had met him only once before, in February 2017, when the MP asked for assistance with the declaration of his interests. Part of Vanara’s duties as a parliamentary legal manager was to help members with declaring their interests.
However, Hellens alleged Vanara had known Bongo was a lawyer and asked him during the February meeting whether a review of legislation by the justice committee - on which Bongo served - could be extended to expunge old criminal complaints against citizens.
Vanara testified Bongo had told him in February that he remembered the parliamentary lawyer telling him about a domestic abuse case laid against him by his wife, and asking whether he could help him with that.
Vanara said he told Bongo at the time he did not know him and had never met him before.
Hellens alleged Vanara told Bongo he had come home drunk one night and assaulted his wife and she had laid a criminal complaint against him.
Vanara denied Bongo’s version, saying the incident happened in 2014 after he and his family watched a soccer World Cup match on television. An argument ensued between him and his wife and he pushed her, prompting her to open a case. A court had referred the matter to mediation, and it was quickly settled.
Hellens argued the only way in which Bongo could have known about the existence of the case was if Vanara had told him about it.
Vanara suggested that as state security minister, Bongo may have been able to access a person’s criminal history. Alternatively, he suggested Bongo could have gone to the police station and asked for the information.
“I wouldn’t know how Mr Bongo knows about that, save for that it was public record. He was minister of state security. He had the machinery of state security at his disposal. Whether he used it or not I can’t say,” said Vanara.
He said there would be no reason for him to confide about the incident to Bongo even if they were friends because Bongo only became an MP in May 2014 and by the following month the matter had been finalised.
“There is literally no basis for me to go to him with this matter,” said Vanara.
Hellens said, “You wanted the very memory of this incident expunged,” - but Vanara disagreed.
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The basis of Bongo’s argument was that Vanara’s complaint was part of a political agenda against him.
“It would suit one part of the governing party for Mr Bongo to be in trouble,” said Hellens.
“The argument you raised and dressed up was for a political agenda.”
Vanara said he did not know this to be true because whenever ANC members were asked about alleged factions, they denied their existence.
Hellens said the timing of Vanara’s complaint, which was made on October 26 2017, was suspicious because it came nine days after Bongo’s appointment as state security minister.
Vanara said he raised the alleged bribe on October 10 with two senior parliamentary officials and the acting secretary of parliament, who advised him to put his complaint in writing.
Hellens said the complaint was not made to the police but rather through a political channel.
Vanara said his office and those of the officials he approached were administrative in nature.
“Parliament is an environment where there are politicians but there are also administrative activities,” he said.
“I reported it to parliament. In my view, I had done my job by reporting it to parliament. There are different political parties in parliament and the chances of sweeping matters under the carpet are slim.”
The indictment against Bongo alleges he offered Vanara a bribe to tell the parliamentary inquiry he was ill and it could not go ahead. Bongo has pleaded not guilty to one charge of corruption.
The case continues.