AS IT HAPPENED: Sundaram tells State Capture Inquiry he was 'conned' into launching a 'mafia and propaganda' station

2019-06-03 15:00

The former editor of one-time Gupta-owned TV news channel ANN7, Rajesh Sundaram, is testifying at the judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture.

WATCH LIVE: State Capture Inquiry 

(Courtesy of SABC)

Raymond Zondo chairs the state capture inquiry

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Last Updated at 20:39
03 Jun 16:23

Sundaram says a Gupta brother at one point physically assaulted a staffer or would call them monkeys and scream at them.

He would blame his behaviour on the fact that he is a diabetic.

03 Jun 16:06

Zondo scrutinises  Sundaram's resignation letter. They agree that the contents of the letter did not reflect Sundaram's true feelings about working at ANN7 and with the Guptas.

He says he wanted to end on amicable terms.

03 Jun 15:51

A few months after setting up the station "it took an effect on my health," Sundaram tells the inquiry. Speaking of his resignation, Sundaram says he was conned in setting up what he believed was a mafia station.

He didn't want the departing ways to be bitter.

03 Jun 15:45

03 Jun 15:43

Sundaram says his book was written in 2014 already but was advised by lawyers not to publish yet and publishers wanted to investigate the claims in the book.

The book was published without any changes and after due process was followed, during the time of the Gupta Leaks in 2018.

03 Jun 15:38
Sundaram says it was stupid of the Guptas to think that they could keep Zuma's visit to the station a secret. Media reported the on-site visit.

03 Jun 15:38
Sundaram says it was stupid of the Guptas to think that they could keep Zuma's visit to the station a secret. Media reported the on-site visit.

03 Jun 15:35
It was a train wreck waiting to happen, Sundaram says about the launch of ANN7.

03 Jun 15:34

03 Jun 15:32

03 Jun 15:27

03 Jun 15:26

Sundaram now on the fourth meeting with Zuma, which happened the day before the launch of the ANN7 news channel. This meeting took place at the ANN7 studios, says Sundaram.

03 Jun 15:25

03 Jun 15:21

Back from the short break, Advocate Norman continues leading Sundaram's evidence, following Zondo's direct line of questioning about Sundaram's book.

03 Jun 15:10

Zondo requests a quick, five-minute adjournment. Back in five. 

03 Jun 15:09

Zondo is currently heavily referencing Sundaram's book, asking him questions about direct quotes and lines that he published in his book with quotation marks, which would indicate that these words were exactly what was said at the time, but Sundaram has no recordings to reference. These "quotes" were all written from memory, as well as descriptions of the speakers' body language. 

Sundaram says that these "things stayed in my mind", suggesting that he has a very good memory and everything written in the book is how everything happened "to the best of his knowledge". 

Sundaram says he was absolutely focused on each and every word that was said in these meetings. The gist is contained in his book.

03 Jun 14:56

Sundaram, paraphrasing Jacob Zuma's reaction to the ANN7 bulletins in the video clip shown to him, says Zuma said something along the lines of "You have a good thing on your hands" and that they were much better than the SABC, which was "horrible".

03 Jun 14:44

Sundaram says he had raised an issue about not yet having presenters, and the only option would then have been to hire journalists at a higher salary, but the Guptas and co were "very suspicious of the journalists. They thought that they would not toe the line that they wanted to". 

Sundaram: "So that's when Atul Gupta got up and suggested 'Let's hire models'..." 

Sundaram says Gupta than said there's a modelling agency "that is something that we've used in the past, ask them to send a dozen models and we will train them to be presenters". 

Sundaram says he had raised objections at the time about their experience and the quality of the news they would deliver - he did not want ANN7 to become a laughing stock. 

Sundaram says his objections were overruled, like many others. 

03 Jun 14:36

03 Jun 14:33

Sundaram says the Guptas told Duduzane that they had a surprise for him, which was a clip of a mock run of a news bulletin, which was shown on a screen set up in the meeting room. 

Sundaram says he had major concerns about the poor quality of the video clip, but the Guptas told him that Zuma wouldn't know anything about the quality anyway. 

03 Jun 14:26

Sundaram is currently discussing the details of the third meeting with Zuma, also at the presidential residence in Pretoria, a couple of weeks before the launch of the ANN7 news channel. Sundaram says this is also the first meeting where Duduzane Zuma was present, and it was the first time that Sundaram met Duduzane.

Sundaram says the fourth meeting happened just the day before the launch of ANN7. 

03 Jun 14:08

Back from the break, Advocate Thandi Norman continues leading Sundaram's evidence.

03 Jun 13:04

Zondo calls for the lunch adjournment. Back at 14:00.

03 Jun 13:03

03 Jun 12:59

03 Jun 12:58

Nazeem Howa would instruct the newsroom not to cover DA meetings and press conferences, says Sundaram.

03 Jun 12:55

Sundaram describes the disastrous launch day of the ANN7 news station, calling it a "trainwreck" that he had very little say in, and for it to happen under his watch, was a very dark day for him. 

"This was the most depressing time of my life..." Sundaram admits.

Sundaram says the launch date was decided by Atul and Ajay Gupta, and the high-tech studio cameras came in on the last day right before the launch. Ordinarily, the staff would have had to be trained in advance to use these cameras - "A news team would have a month to debug the logistics," says Sundaram. 

Sundaram says the news anchors were also not professional journalists, but rather "models who were being trained..."

03 Jun 12:48

Sundaram tells the commission about how Zuma had mentioned the names of children of his ANC comrades as possible candidates for employment at ANN7. Zuma did however also say that he didn't want it to be too obvious that the news channel had ANC links. 

Sundaram describes how it would be like a "game" that the Guptas would be playing with the president, where they told Zuma that they would take his views to heart, when in fact they would "throw it in the dustbin" and do whatever they wanted anyway. 

03 Jun 12:41

Sundaram describes how journalists and news presenters were not keen on working at ANN7 due to the Guptas' reputation, but Sundaram says that Zuma said he would think of potential presenters. According to Sundaram, Zuma said that Mzwanele Manyi would be a "perfect fit" for the kind of position at ANN7 and they should hire him.

03 Jun 12:34

Sundaram now discusses a second meeting held with Zuma. 

03 Jun 12:28

Sundaram talks about the "editorial policy" at ANN7, which would normally be determined by the editorial team, but he was told the channel would be following the TNA's editorial policy. Sundaram says he decided early on to leave when he realised "they just wanted a rubber stamp", and not an editor.

03 Jun 12:26

03 Jun 12:24

Sundaram again mentions the Waterkloof incident, which he earlier said had generated a lot of unwanted bad publicity towards the Guptas, causing a lot of ministers to distance themselves from the Guptas and the TNA breakfasts. 

Sundaram says Zuma and the Guptas would make jokes about the Waterkloof incident, and "would have a hearty laugh about it" as well. 

03 Jun 12:15

03 Jun 12:07

Sundaram explains how former president Jacob Zuma was referred to as "Number 9" to keep matters "as secretive as possible" in their dealings. 

Sundaram: "If we do discuss about the meeting - because we had to make a presentation and the inputs had to be discussed with the senior management - and if we're discussing before others we should not mention the president by name. That's what Atul Gupta said. He said we should refer to him as 'Number 9'..."

Sundaram: "So I asked him, 'Why Number 9? Why not Number 3 or Number 7 or Number 10?' He said Number 9 was the code that was given to president Zuma when he was part of the ANC and he was part of an intelligence grouping during the apartheid years, and that's a codename that he would want to use in this case."

Sundaram says whenever Gupta called him the day before a meeting, he would tell him they need to "meet with Number 9" at whatever time, in reference to Zuma. 

03 Jun 12:07

03 Jun 11:55

Sundaram suggests that former president Jacob Zuma even had input in the naming of the ANN7 news channel.

03 Jun 11:54

Sundaram says The New Age (TNA) business breakfasts would also be discussed with Jacob Zuma. If they had any problems getting ministers to attend or to secure funding for the breakfasts, the Guptas would inform Zuma. 

Sundaram says he got the sense that the Guptas had very good ties with the president. "President Zuma was very warm to them," he says. 

03 Jun 11:43

Sundaram relates how one of the Gupta brothers became irate because they had to wait for Zuma who was in another meeting, and they threatened to leave, but were then told Zuma would be available in a few minutes. 

Zuma showed up to the boardroom in which their meeting was being held, apologetic that he had made them wait. 

03 Jun 11:40

03 Jun 11:38

Back from the break, Sundaram continues relating his experience to the commission of his visit to the president's residence in Pretoria - on June 2, 2013. 

Sundaram says they were told they would be given a "number" so that they could have access to the residence without issue. 

03 Jun 11:17

Evidence leader Advocate Thandi Norman notes that it is now 11:15, and Zondo calls for the short tea adjournment. 

Back at 11:30. 

03 Jun 11:17

03 Jun 11:15

03 Jun 11:12

Sundaram earlier mentioned Oakbay Investments, Essel Media and Mabengela Investments among the owners of the company's share capital. 

From a list of directors - both active and those who had resigned - Sundaram reads some recognisable names that include the likes of Laxmi Goel, Atul Gupta, Duduzane Zuma, Moegsien Williams, Mzwanele Manyi... 

03 Jun 10:58

Sundaram says when he agreed to join Infinity Media, he wasn't made aware that then-president Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane Zuma, was a partner in the business. Sundaram says he may have reconsidered and might not have joined, if he had known. 

Sundaram says there was a "sense of the involvement" of the president in the ANN7 project. 

03 Jun 10:53

Sundaram tells the commission about how, when he arrived in South Africa, he was taken to a guesthouse owned by the Gupta family that "was like a labour camp", with rats running around. 

Sundaram details how he had met someone there from Nepal who had said he was there to cook and do the housekeeping, but would not get paid directly - his "wages" would be paid to someone back in New Delhi instead.

03 Jun 10:50

Sundaram says the "Infinity Media" that he had signed a contract for was a company in South Africa. Sundaram says he was told that since there was a joint venture between Goel's Essel Media and the Gupta-owned company, it was a "transfer" between two joint venture partners. 

Sundaram says he was told it "was all part of Infinity Media". 

03 Jun 10:37

03 Jun 10:37

Sundaram talks about how someone who had been hired as part of the HR team, in their "enthusiasm" went to the South African High Commission, with the passports of prospective employees, without informing Ashu Chawla. 

Sundaram: "And of course, he was denied access. He asked to speak with somebody at the visa section there, and I think the point person we were told was 'Mr Shakeel', he asked to speak with Mr Shakeel and he was told that there's no Shakeel who worked there..."

Sundaram: "But of course, the next day, Mr Laxmi Goel gave him a dressing down, told him that if there's visas to be processed, the process to be followed was for Mr Ashu Chawla to be informed, for him to then use his influence in the government to give instructions to the High Commission in New Delhi, for them to issue those visas."

Sundaram says true to that, the visas then applied for in this manner, "came in very quickly on application". 

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