State capture inquiry: 'I did not have power' to grant Treasury exclusive probe into Estina dairy project - Peter Thabethe

2019-10-04 13:03
Former Free State agriculture department head Peter Thabethe. (PHOTO: Dan Xangaza, Daily Sun)

Former Free State agriculture department head Peter Thabethe. (PHOTO: Dan Xangaza, Daily Sun)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Former Free State agriculture department head Peter Thabethe told the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture that he did not have the authority to grant National Treasury permission for an exclusive investigation into the controversial Estina dairy farm project.

FOLLOW LIVE | All provinces declined in dairy farming, Thabethe tells #StateCaptureInquiry on Estina investigation

"Chair, the investigation team did discuss the matter with me, that I give them permission to investigate. I can only give permission with the inclusion of the department, but they wanted an exclusive investigation [and] I did not have the power to tell them to investigate a third party," he testified on Friday.

The controversial project was meant to see 100 black emerging farmers receive five cows each as part of an empowerment scheme. Gifted to Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the provincial Department of Agriculture, the farm was one of the most controversial transactions between the Guptas and a government entity, News24 previously reported.

ALSO READ: Zondo commission shifts to Gupta-linked Estina dairy farm project

Treasury tasked law firm Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs (ENS) with the investigation into the project.

During the investigation, an issue arose relating to a confidentiality clause in the agreement between Estina and the provincial government.

The sole director of Estina, Kamal Vasram, relied on this clause to resist an interview request from Treasury investigators.

Evidence leader, advocate Leah Gcabashe SC, cited the Treasury report on the matter, noting that the sole director of Estina refused to participate until Thabethe granted permission.

The report also revealed that Thabethe was of no help to investigators.

'Intellectual property'

"Chair, this is exactly what I explained. They needed an exclusive investigation which I could not do. We agreed that the interview could be done with Estina, if the department was involved. That was the difficulty that I had," Thabethe explained.

But commission chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, failed to see the issue in granting Treasury the permission to investigate a private company that would be benefiting from taxpayers' funds.

"No, Estina has an agreement with your department. Treasury is there to look after taxpayers' money and they wanted to investigate. Whether someone from the department is there or not is neither here or there.

"I don't see why you had a problem," Zondo said.

Thabethe, who was the accounting officer at the department, responded: "My thinking is that they want permission from me. I had no problems with the investigation."

When Thabethe was probed on what was so confidential in the project that needed to be protected, he cited "intellectual property" with respect to the products that would be produced from the project.

The inquiry continues.

Read more on:    estina  |  peter thabethe  |  gupta family  |  raymond zondo  |  johannesburg  |  state capture inquiry  |  governance  |  state capture  |  corruption

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.