Rotten ANN7 shredded by former editor
Publish date: 06 June 2019
Issue Number: 663
Diary: Legalbrief Forensic
Category: Zondo inquiry
The jewel in the crown of the Gupta’s State Capture scheme – a now defunct television channel – came into sharp focus at this week’s Zondo Commission of Inquiry. And Legalbrief reports that Rajesh Sundaram, ANN7’s former consulting editor, shredded his former employers and labelled the channel as ‘a mafia and propaganda station’. Sundaram, who flew to SA to testify, had already spilled the beans in his tell-all book Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV. He told the commission that the Gupta family illegally shipped in labourers from India to SA to work on the 24-hour news channel. Business Day reports that he noted that a large number of the labourers came from India on tourist visas and worked in setting up ANN7. They were also paid in cash in India before coming to SA. ‘This is something I know is a pure violation of tax laws in India.’ He further testified that Atul Gupta and Oakbay Investments’ former CEO Nazeem Howa knew about the set-up and were okay with it. Sundaram told commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that when he questioned the legality of the arrangement with Atul, the businessman allegedly said, ‘I have the government in my pocket … you don’t worry about what is legal and illegal.'
The inquiry also heard that Howa mocked SABC executives for being ‘so stupid’ in letting the family use its archival footage. Sundaram detailed how Howa boasted about a ‘very sweet deal for archives’ they had clinched with the public broadcaster, says a second Business Day report. The archival content was about 100 hours long, he said, and was worth ‘billions of dollars’. Sundaram said it was very surprising that this took place just as the SABC was about to launch its own 24-hours news channel. He questioned why the public broadcaster would then decide to ‘give a huge supply of oxygen to a rival’. Howa told Sundaram that he got the archives through the Guptas’ influence. He said SABC officials knew the Guptas had the blessing and backing of former President Jacob Zuma.
Sundaram said he explained to Zuma how the station would cover local news, lifestyle, international news and sport. Zuma is said to have instructed that there ‘should be no lampooning of politicians’. A TimesLIVE report notes that Sundaram said Zuma also suggested the form of the station's editorial policy. He also approved the station's logo and suggested the names of journalists and presenters the station should hire. ‘Zuma wanted the station to be centred around him and the politicians who supported him,’ he said.
While Sundaram testified for two days on how Zuma allegedly acted like an ANN7 shareholder, it was his son, Duduzane, who was the on-paper shareholder. eNCA reports that the Dubai-based businessman held a 21% stake in Infinity Media through Mabengela Investments. Sundaram said Rajesh Gupta had a relationship with Duduzane, and ‘sons of other Ministers, and he moved in that circle, trying to influence them and trying to work out deals’. ‘Ajay Gupta was the head in that sense of the family. He was the one who did all the direct negotiations with the government, with President Zuma. He was very close to President Zuma as well. Also, he was the bully you know who go out there and tell the Ministers whatever he wanted to get done, or you know seek favours telling everybody he had the President in his pocket,’ said Sundaram.
Moegsien Williams, a former editor for the Gupta family's now-defunct newspaper, The New Age, has denied wrongdoing in the run-up to the establishment of ANN7 in 2013. A report on the IoL site notes that commission evidence leader Thandi Norman said Williams submitted an affidavit to the commission on Monday in which he stated that he would not testify or apply to cross-examine Sundaram. ‘The legal team took a view that because he does not wish to testify or cross-examine Mr Sundaram, then Mr Sundaram should be given an opportunity to respond to his affidavit.’ A report on the News24 site notes that Williams said Sundaram was primarily responsible for the ‘disastrous’ launch of the television station. ’Apart from having spent three months in the country, having not been very successful as an editor of ANN7, having a tumultuous relationship with his employers, having left the Republic under a cloud, Mr Sundaram seems to justify his lack of success at ANN7 with reference to allegations which are simply not true in a book he wishes to sell and to protect a professional reputation,’ his affidavit reads. But Sundaram hit back and said he had read Williams' affidavit and called it a ‘bunch of half-truths and absolute lies’. ‘He is lying in his affidavit ... I stand by whatever I said in my affidavit,’ he testified.