Did Zwane lie to Parliament on Guptas?
Publish date: 17 July 2017
Issue Number: 4264
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: State capture
Certain members of President Jacob Zuma’s Cabinet are unable to stem the flow of allegations of corruption linked to the Gupta family, notes Legalbrief. This is particularly so in the case of Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane, whom, according to latest revelations in the Sunday Times, not only used the Guptas' private jet during a trip to Dubai and Switzerland two years ago, but also spent three nights at the same five-star Zurich hotel as the Guptas and their business associates. The Sunday Times notes that when it first reported on Zwane's trip to negotiate a mining deal with Glencore, his office claimed he had been invited by investors to promote SA's potential for mining investments. Zwane also claimed in April last year in replies to questions in Parliament that he had never met the Guptas or their associates since being appointed Minister in September 2015. But, says the report, documentation, including leaked Gupta e-mails and the itinerary for his trip sent by his office to the embassy in Switzerland, reveal the Minister and the Gupta group stayed at the same hotel. The documents show Zwane arrived in Switzerland on 30 November 2015, the same day the Guptas did, to negotiate the purchase of Optimum coal mine with Glencore. An e-mail sent by Siyabonga Hadebe, the director for international co-ordination in Zwane's office, to the Department of International Relations and Co-operation on 27 November shows that Zwane intended to hold meetings for three days with Glencore CEO Ivan Glasenberg at the Dolder Grand Hotel. This is the same hotel that Tony Gupta and his business associates Salim Essa and Paras Lodha – who was arrested in India for alleged money laundering last year – checked into.
The Sunday Times report also challenges a claim by Zwane's office that he had been on an official trip because he had been ‘responding to specific invitations from major investment companies, including Glencore’. But Hadebe's e-mail made no mention of any invitation. The Sunday Times says it has been reliably informed that no such official invitation was ever extended to Zwane by either Glencore or any other major company in Europe. Zwane did not have any other meetings with ‘major investment companies’ in Zurich. His itinerary lists only the three meetings he held with Glasenberg.
Another report in the Sunday Times confirms what is by now well known – that Zuma himself is firmly tied to the Guptas. The report notes that when the President shook hands with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, in October 2015 in New Delhi, he was wearing a Nehru suit bought for him by the Guptas from a top Indian couturier. The family also ordered three jackets for Zuma to wear at their lavish family wedding that was held at Sun City in April 2013. Zuma, who was supposed to be one of the special guests at the wedding, failed to attend because of the controversy over the Gupta aircraft landing at Air Force Base Waterkloof in Pretoria. According to the report, leaked Gupta e-mails reveal the family bought Zuma a navy blue ‘chikankari bandhgala with detailing on the collar’, a ‘black velvet bandhgala with Kashmiri embroidery’ and an ‘emerald green bandhgala’ worth 231000 rupees (about R40 000). In the years since the clothes were bought, Zuma has been seen several times in public wearing a bandhgala that fitted the description of one of the three ordered by the Guptas. A spreadsheet found in the leaked e-mails from an employee of Malhotra's store in India shows that the billing was sent to Gupta-owned Sahara executive Ashu Chawla.
The Zuma-Guptas connection is explored further in a report in The Times, which says hotel executives in India knew the Guptas had ‘open-door access’ to the highest levels of government, including Zuma, months before the relationship between ‘No 1’ and the controversial family became a topic of daily conversation. The report notes leaked e-mails have revealed how Smriti Hinduja, assistant sales manager of Oberoi hotels in Mumbai, briefed staff from two hotels in early October 2012 on the imminent arrival of guests from Gupta-owned Sahara. Hinduja laid down several rules for the visit, which spanned several Oberoi hotels from 15 to 19 October 2012, including what ‘VIP Rajesh Tony Gupta’ preferred. ‘Please note this is a VVIP group and Rajesh Gupta regularly stays at the Presidential Suite of the Taj in New Delhi, hence the request if (sic) he is handled with kid gloves,’ Hinduja wrote. Among the many demands to satisfy the guests, which included Zuma’s son, Duduzane, and then Free State MEC for Agriculture Zwane, was that the mini-bar in Gupta’s room was the only one to stay unlocked. ‘Sahara Group is based out of South Africa owned by three brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta. Today the Guptas are known for their billionaire lifestyles and open-door access to the highest levels of government, including President Jacob Zuma,’ according to the e-mail, which is contained in a string of messages forwarded to Sahara CEO Ashu Chawla by Hinduja. It had an invoice attached.