State capture: Vytjie Mentor & other witnesses to name Zuma as Gupta lobbyist

Three witnesses to shed light on the former president's involvement in diverting state funds to the controversial family

26 August 2018 - 00:05 By QAANITAH HUNTER
Former deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas gets a hug from former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor at the commission of inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg this week.
Former deputy minister Mcebisi Jonas gets a hug from former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor at the commission of inquiry into state capture in Johannesburg this week.
Image: Reuters

Former president Jacob Zuma is going to be dragged deeper into the centre of state capture rot as three witnesses who will appear before the Zondo commission this week will implicate him in lobbying for Gupta companies to receive government business.

Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, former cabinet spokesperson Themba Maseko and Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) acting CEO Phumla Williams are expected to shed light on Zuma's alleged involvement in diverting state funds to the Gupta family.

After Mentor's testimony on Monday, the commission will go on a three-day recess.

During that break, the Sunday Times has been told, its investigators will sit down with ANC head of elections Fikile Mbalula to take down his statement on claims he was first informed by the Guptas that he would be appointed to Zuma's cabinet.

He declined to comment.

The Sunday Times understands that Zuma was furnished with new set of questions related to a statement by Williams.

A spokesperson for the commission confirmed that Zuma had been served with section 3.3 notices, but declined to discuss questions related to Williams's statement.

Williams is expected to tell the commission this week, under oath, what her role was in the payment of millions in state funds to Gupta-owned companies.

A source with knowledge of the evidence said her affidavit goes through a chronology of events from the time she was appointed acting head of GCIS, until now. Williams has held the position for six years.

Contacted for comment, Williams said: "I will tell my full story when I testify ..."

Zuma's lawyers this week demanded that the commission present them with documents before responding to Williams's accusations. They were served a 103-page bundle which included Williams's statement.

Zuma's legal team declined to comment.

Though Williams claims to have been acting under political instructions, her role in assisting the Guptas to profit irregularly from government advertising is being probed.

Williams's testimony will be preceded by that of Maseko, who will detail how Ajay Gupta asked that R600m of GCIS's advertising budget be spent with The New Age.

Maseko is expected to tell the commission that he was not offered any personal benefit but that Ajay was "clearly attempting to force my hand in a threatening manner". He is further expected to say that Ajay instructed him to identify and allocate all the government's communication budget to his company.

The commission is to explore Maseko's statement, which says Ajay told him that if any department or minister "gave him problems", Ajay would deal with them directly.

On Monday, Mentor will tell the commission about a trip she undertook from Cape Town to Johannesburg, and how she was offered the post of public enterprises minister at the Guptas' Saxonwold compound, while Zuma was in another room.

Fresh revelations are expected to be made by Williams when she takes the stand. National Treasury officials alleged this week that she personally made requests in 2013 and 2014 for all government advertising to be centralised and controlled by GCIS.

"She said there was this [news]paper, The New Age, and it's a government paper, and all the advertising of government must be centralised," a senior official said.

Williams is said to have written to then Treasury chief procurement officer Kenneth Brown, asking that all government departments be instructed to redirect their budgets for newspaper advertising to the GCIS, which would rely solely on The New Age. "She tried to make a case about this newspaper … not too much was known about it," the source said.

A second government official said this week that the request was categorically turned down by the Treasury, "because what she was asking for was illegal".

The official said: "We told her that if she wanted government advertising centralised into an online portal run by government, that would be a different thing."

The officials said an impression was created that The New Age was a government-supported paper and the government would benefit from directing hundreds of millions of rands in its advertising budget to it.

Senior Treasury officials are expected to come forward with this evidence, including how GCIS financial records show that money was transferred from it to The New Age.

Investigators working for the commission are said to have found irregular money trails between GCIS and The New Age.

Advocate Mahlape Sello is expected to lead evidence this week.

Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas told the Zondo commission on Friday, August 24 2018, that Ajay Gupta had threatened him with death if he ever spoke about their meeting at which Duduzane Zuma and Fana Hlongwane were also present.

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