Cape Town – The Eskom Inquiry on Wednesday heard that Rajesh (Tony) Gupta is not a friend of Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Ben Martins.
Martins appeared before the portfolio committee of public enterprises, which is investigating the mismanagement of funds at state power utility Eskom.
During a cross examination by Advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the deputy minister clarified the nature of his relationship with the Gupta brother.
“Mr Gupta has never been my friend,” he said. As an authority figure in government, Martins said he meets many individuals and interacts with them “as far as work is concerned”.
“Under no circumstance can I say Mr Tony Gupta is a friend of mine, he is not a friend of mine.”
Martins explained that having met Tony in 2012 and based on other interactions with him, he found him to be an “avid” businessman “looking for avenues to find ways of making money or strengthening his company (Sahara)”. At the time Sahara was a medium-sized company struggling to grow.
“My impression was, he is somebody like any other businessman who wants to empower or enrich themselves or their company.”
Vanara asked Martins if he found Tony to be party to any wrongdoing, for example trying to push for a tender at the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) as was mentioned by Lucky Montana in his testimony.
Montana testified on Tuesday in an effort to clear his name, after it cropped up in a briefing on November 9 2017. Montana said he felt Martins created an impression that he brought the Gupta family to Martins, and not the other way around.
Further to Montana’s testimony, the Guptas tried to secure a tender at Prasa and had arranged for rolling stock manufacturers to offer him money. This angered Montana who approached Martins, who was transport minister at the time (2012).
Martins, who had not read Montana’s submission nor watched it on TV, confirmed that a meeting was arranged with Tony Gupta and Montana, where he rebuked Gupta.
During his testimony, Martins said he attended an Indian food fair at one of the Guptas' Saxonwold homes on one occasion, but not in his capacity as minister.
Waterkloof plane landing
He also clarified his part in the Waterkloof plane landing. He said he was approached by the Gupta family in May 2013 to obtain permission to have a welcoming ceremony at OR Tambo International Airport for the plane landing.
“My response was it can’t happen for a few reasons. Any plane that lands there, when people come out of the plane they can’t have song and dance in front of the plane as people get out,” said Martins.
He also said he explained that the home affairs department oversees the stamping of passports. “Only after you have stepped out to fetch luggage, from there onwards it is the jurisdiction of (the) transport department.”
Martins suggested the Pilanesburg airport, close to Sun City, where the wedding was to be held. He said his advice to the Guptas to go to the Pilanesburg airport was not an attempt to circumvent the legal requirements of the country.
A month later, Martins was deployed to the Department of Energy.
ACDP MP Steven Swart asked Martins if he noticed a pattern of state capture, where boards were changed to achieve certain ends. Martins responded by saying that with the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to see trends.
He said that nobody has looked at this “phenomenon”, and that is necessary to be done.
No grudge against Daniels
Martins also disputed the testimony of Eskom’s suspended head of legal Suzanne Daniels, who said that she had met him, Duduzane Zuma, Tony Gupta and Salim Essa at Melrose Arch on July 29 2016 to discuss Molefe’s case.
Martins said he attended Ronnie Mamoepa’s funeral on that day and later attended a sitting of the Economic Transformation Commission. He explained that Daniels implicated him in a meeting which he had never attended.
“My understanding or recollection of testimony given to the portfolio committee is that there was a meeting and at the meeting, Brian Molefe’s matter was discussed. At the same meeting (the) issue of deputy judge president’s (DJP) office was discussed, to postpone the date to (a) later appearance.
“All that in my view placed me in a context I would not be, to discuss undermining the office of the DJP.”
Vanara read out a tweet, allegedly written by Martins: “There are many ways to kill a man, the only ammunition you need for character assassination, to allege phantom meeting with Gupta without any shred of truth and then drown whatever is left of conscious with a shot of whiskey.”
To this Martins replied that he would have to check the record of his tweets, but it did vaguely sound like something he could have written. When asked if he could check the tweet on his phone, Martins said it was with VIP protection services. He also said he had sent out more than 2 000 tweets and could not recall them all.
He explained that the Department of Public Enterprises' legal teams had engaged with Daniels, in her capacity as legal adviser for the power utility. This was related in particular to issues of Brian Molefe’s payments.
“We had an occasion of two legal teams of Eskom and the department to discuss and get clarity on legal matters regarding Brian Molefe,” he explained.
“My working relationship (with Daniels) is fine. She is a person I have only met in the context of the responsibilities assumed. I have no reason to bear a grudge or have anything against her,” he said.
The inquiry was adjourned. The portfolio committee will meet with Eskom’s new board on Thursday.
* Sign up to Fin24's top news in your inbox: SUBSCRIBE TO FIN24 NEWSLETTER