How Des van Rooyen's Gupta cronies leaked classified Treasury documents

20 November 2016 - 02:05 By THANDUXOLO JIKA and SABELO SKITI

Just two days after Des van Rooyen's disastrous appointment as finance minister in December last year, his team leaked a confidential government document to close Gupta associates.

The cabinet's master plan to avoid a ratings downgrade was leaked to key Gupta friends - even before President Jacob Zuma and his ministers had seen the document .

The shocking details are revealed in a string of e-mails, which the Sunday Times has seen. They show how Van Rooyen's special advisers, Ian Whitley and Mohamed Bobat, began an audacious takeover of the National Treasury almost immediately after the new finance minister took up his position.

On October 30 the Sunday Times reported that Van Rooyen, until then an ANC backbencher, had visited the Gupta compound in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, every day for the seven days before his appointment by Zuma on December 9.

story_article_left1

Whitley and Bobat are believed to have accompanied Van Rooyen on his many visits to the compound. Whitley is ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte's son-in-law.

Appointed after the controversial axing of respected finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, Van Rooyen lasted only four days in the job. The rand went into a perilous slide after Nene was sacked and Zuma was forced to replace Van Rooyen with Pravin Gordhan.

Criminal charges were recently brought against Gordhan - and then withdrawn - in what was seen as a further attempt to gain control of the Treasury.

The e-mails have surfaced in a court battle between Gupta-aligned businessman Eric Wood and his former partners at Regiments Capital.

The legal battle emanates from Wood's departure from Regiments and his partnering with Salim Essa, a key business partner of the Guptas and Zuma's son Duduzane.

The e-mails include a document prepared by the Treasury's director-general, Lungisa Fuzile, for economics cluster chairman Gugile Nkwinti.

It details economic opportunities in Africa for South African companies, the effects of rating agencies' decisions, a breakdown of government expenditure, matters to do with state-owned companies, corruption and perceptions thereof, beneficiation and mining, as well as South Africa' s nine-point plan for an economic turnaround and each department's contribution to it.

Nkwinti had requested input from directors-general in the cluster to prepare for a meeting of ministers on Tuesday December 15 2015 on how to turn around South Africa's ailing economy.

block_quotes_start Even at that point already the documents are classified, so in the context of them being in the hands of the ministerial team [they] would be considered, at the very minimum, confidential block_quotes_end

These would have then fed into an ongoing cabinet discussion on the topic.

On December 12, just hours after receiving the document, Whitley shared it with Bobat and Essa's former business partner Malcolm Mabaso, who was special adviser to Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.

He began the e-mail simply: "Gents, finally ..."

Bobat then forwarded the e-mail to Wood, his former boss in the private sector, as well as another, unknown non-government e-mail address. Wood is CEO of Trillian Capital Partners, a company owned by Essa.

A senior government official said the leak was a serious breach, as any documents known to be intended for cabinet consumption were treated as confidential, and received an even higher classification once they became cabinet memos.

story_article_right2

"Even at that point already the documents are classified, so in the context of them being in the hands of the ministerial team [they] would be considered, at the very minimum, confidential."

Government Communication and Information System spokesman Donald Liphoko said it was "unusual for government documents to be circulated outside of senior government officials and advisers".

Cassius Lubisi, cabinet secretary and director-general in the Presidency, said via a text message that his department had "no knowledge of the matter".

The Sunday Times has reported previously how Wood shared with Essa eight initiatives he had prepared for Van Rooyen as the new finance minister.

These included a programme for the Treasury to help tier-two municipalities to access debt on capital markets to pay for infrastructure projects, as well as the establishment of a national black bank with which the government would conduct all its business.

On Friday December 11 - the day after Van Rooyen began his job at the Treasury and Fuzile delivered the presentation - the minister is said to have demanded to see all the Treasury's files on SAA.

At the time the airline's chairwoman, Dudu Myeni, another Zuma friend and business associate, was at loggerheads with the Treasury over her plans for the airline to abandon an aircraft lease deal with manufacturer Airbus and rather purchase aircraft outright.

Her proposed R6-billion deal, which involved a little-known local financier, would have cost the airline more than a billion in impairments it could not afford.

On Friday, Bobat said Mabaso had been copied on the e-mail for input from his director-general at the Department of Mineral Resources, while Wood's input was solicited as he was studying towards a doctorate on the South African economic climate and the success of entrepreneurship in the country.

"Minister Van Rooyen has engaged with various stakeholders across the local government sector, as is his responsibility and as do all ministers in the line of duty.

"The minister had no interactions with Mr Wood. He became aware of him through me," he said.

story_article_left3

Trillian Capital Partners said yesterday that the allegations that Wood had received the confidential e-mails formed part of a dispute into which its board chairman, Tokyo Sexwale, has ordered an investigation.

Sexwale announced this month that an investigation would be carried out by Advocate Geoff Budlender SC regarding allegations made against Wood and Trillian Capital and its alleged involvement in state capture.

"The scope of the investigation covers some of the questions you have sent to Dr Wood and Trillian, which are highly disputed, and therefore, being the subject of investigation, we would advise that these matters be left to Mr Budlender's investigation," said Trillian.

Last month the Sunday Times reported that Wood told a subordinate in October 2015 that Nene would be removed that December.

Wood and Essa, Trillian's majority shareholder, then reportedly conspired to influence Van Rooyen by suggesting eight initiatives he should champion as minister.

Ajay Gupta declined to comment and referred questions to spokesman Gary Naidoo, who had not responded by the time of going to press.

jikat@sundaytimes.co.za, skitis@sundaytimes.co.za

subscribe