Big reveal: Gordhan asserts that he will let the Gupta cat out of the bag
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said that on Friday he would set out “a number of interactions” between the treasury and Oakbay Investments, owned by the Gupta family.
Gordhan’s assertion came just hours after Oakbay launched an attempt to help South Africans “understand our operations”.
There had been many such engagements, Gordhan said during an interview session at the Open Book Festival in Cape Town on Thursday. And the proposed inquiry into South Africa’s banking system arises from “one particular company”, Gordhan told political analyst Justice Malala, again referring to Oakbay.
As Gordhan was being interviewed, Parliament’s National Assembly held an urgent debate on allegations of state capture. President Jacob Zuma had become a puppet of the Gupta family, Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane said, and had “perfected” state capture.
Earlier in the week the ANC called on Zuma to discipline Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane for saying the Cabinet had decided that a judicial review of the entire banking system was required after the Oakbay accounts were closed. The Cabinet had done no such thing, the presidency subsequently said, but later in Parliament a defiant Zwane insisted such an inquiry was warranted.
Asked for his opinion on Thursday, Gordhan — the minister responsible for banking oversight — said such a probe was not necessary.
“My view is that, where we sit as the finance ministry, a judicial commission doesn’t prove anything,” Gordhan said. “If there are serious complaints there is the court system, and if that doesn’t work there are institutional mechanisms to resolve them.”
The DA has called for a full parliamentary inquiry into allegations that ministers, government departments and state-owned entities had acted to benefit the Gupta family.
In what appeared to be a coincidence, the Gupta family’s primary investment holding vehicle, Oakbay Investments, on Thursday published its “maiden annual results”, a 17-page statement on its businesses that contained a smattering of numbers.
“Despite being a private company and having no obligation to release details of our financial performance, we recognise that many myths have built up about the group,” chief executive Nazeem Howa said of the decision to publish such a report for the first time in 20 years of operation.
“In particular, I look forward to dispelling the myth that our group is heavily reliant on government business, either directly or indirectly. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
According to the report, government business accounted for R233-million in revenue in the financial year to the end of February, less than 10% of the group’s total. Yet new allegations of Gupta companies benefiting from cushy govern- ment deals continue to surface on an almost weekly basis.
These include state power utility Eskom, which allegedly gave Oakbay a favourable deal for its newly acquired Optimum coal mine, and a deal involving a Gupta associate, Salim Essa, at Transnet. Investigative centre amaBhungane revealed last month that a Gupta-linked company, Global Softech Solutions, half-owned by the Guptas’ Sahara Systems, was set to score a large chunk of an R800-million information technology deal with Transnet.
Sahara does no business with the state following a 2008 decision to this effect, Oakbay said in its statement. The report made no mention of state capture or of allegations, including by a sitting deputy minister, that the Gupta family had influenced who would serve in high government office.
In March, Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas dropped a bombshell, publicly alleging that a member of the Gupta family had offered to promote him to finance minister.
Jonas rejected the offer, saying “it makes a mockery of our hard-earned democracy, the trust of our people — and no one apart from the president of the republic appoints ministers”.
His revelation came just days after ANC MP Vytjie Mentor claimed that the Guptas had offered her the post of public enterprises minister in exchange for a favourable deal at SAA.
The two incidents followed on the controversial axing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister late last year and set in motion an unprecedented public outcry about the Gupta family’s power and influence in government.
“Our South African bank accounts remain closed and we remain none the wiser as to why that is the case, despite asking the four relevant banks, multiple times, for reasons,” the Oakbay report read. But considering that the Gupta family had announced its intention to sell all its South African assets, “we intend to reach out in the coming weeks, again, to the four banks, and implore them to reopen our accounts”.
Key members of the Gupta family have been commuting between South Africa and Dubai, where they now have a home and are expanding their business empire.
In April it was announced that Atul Gupta, nonexecutive chair of Oakbay Resources and Energy, had resigned, along with the company’s chief executive, Varun Gupta. Their busi- ness partner, Duduzane Zuma — the president’s son — also stepped down as nonexecutive director of Shiva Uranium, an Oakbay subsidiary.
In a statement at the time, Oakbay said: “This decision follows a sustained political attack on the company, and the concern that the jobs and livelihoods of nearly 1 000 employees would be at immediate risk as a result of the outgoing directors’ association with the company.”
In recent weeks there has been clear tension between the treasury and Eskom and Denel over Gupta businesses. There also appears to be little love lost between Gordhan and several of his Cabinet colleagues.
Asked on Thursday about his troubles with elite police unit the Hawks, which is investigating a criminal case against him, Gordhan told Malala that nobody is above the law.
“But what have I done wrong? All the questions have been asked and all the questions have been answered,” he said. “In every piece of correspondence of any substance between my lawyers and the prosecutors and the Hawks, there is a line that says: ‘Should you require any more information, you are happy to contact us.’ They have not contacted us.”
Asked whether he expected to pre- sent the next budget in February, Gordhan said he served at the pleasure of the president, who has the discretion to change his Cabinet. —
With reporting by Bloomberg & News24