'Welcome to the family': Former SAA chair says Gupta brother tried to bribe him with R500,000


Former SAA chairperson Vuyisile Kona has testified that he was offered a R500 000 bribe by Tony Gupta at the family's Saxonwold compound in late October 2012.  He refused the money.

Kona, who was also a former acting chief executive of the flag carrier, was testifying before the commission of inquiry into state capture on Tuesday.

He said that in late October 2012 the struggling airline was in a state of flux. Its CEO and many of its board members had recently resigned, and he was overseeing the work of creating a turnaround plan to be presented to National Treasury.

At the time, he said, he was often in contact with Siyabonga Mahlangu – then an advisor to former Minster of Public Enterprises Malusi Gigaba.   

Kona told the commission that Mahlangu insisted that he visit "some people" or "certain stakeholders". Puzzled by the requests, he said he tried to avoid the subject.

In late October 2012, he said Mahlangu managed to convince him to drive through to Saxonwold.

'I found it strange' 

"It still haunts me today," Kona said. 'I found it strange that an advisor to the minister would call me to an individual's house". He said he did not at the time know of the Guptas.

He said that once he had arrived in Saxonwold, his phone was taken away, and he was led to a room. Present were Tony Gupta, Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane Zuma, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule's son Tshepiso Magashule, and Mahlangu.

He said he already knew Tshepiso Magashule, and had seen Duduzane Zuma on TV but not met him in person. Tony Gupta introduced himself.

After some pleasantries, Kona said Gupta took R100 000 from a drawer and offered it to him in cash, saying, "Before we continue I have to welcome you into the family".

"Chair, I am confused now, because I need to know what family I am being welcomed to," he told the commission. 

Gupta then told him that he knew he had not been paid. This was true, said Kona, as he had not at the time received his September salary.

He said he refused the bribe. 

He testified that Gupta then offered R500 000, which he again refused.

"My father always taught me there was no free lunch in this world," he said.

He said the expression on Gupta's face changed and his mood became business-like. The Gupta brother then started quizzing him on which consulting company the flag carrier would use to aid it in its turnaround plan. 

Kona could not say how Gupta had inside information. His level of knowledge seemed "extraordinary". 

Zuma and Magashule, he said, didn't say a word.

Kona said SAA's supply chain had at the time decided to award a contract to Lufthansa Consulting for R6m to aid the airline in its business plan and turnaround strategy. Global consultancy Mckinsey, he said, had put in a bid of R40m.

He said he told the meeting that the consultancy contract was a done deal. The meeting then abruptly ended.

A phone call

Apparently someone then phoned the then director general of public enterprises, Tshediso Matona, Kona said.

As he was driving back from the meeting, he got a call from Matona who queried him about why Lufthansa received the contract.

He said he told the Matona that he (Kona) was not the one who decided on contracts. 

A few days later,  he said he received a letter form the department of public enterprises saying they wanted to investigate the awarding of the contract to Lufthansa.

The work environment also changed, he said, and at times he started to feel like a "hunted animal".

He told the inquiry he was suspended for "spurious reasons" on February 11, 2013. At the time, SAA said in a statement that he was being suspended "based on certain allegations that have come to the attention of the board, in respect of which the board has a fiduciary duty to investigate".

Kona said that, in hindsight, he believes he was pushed out because of the consulting tender. 

"For me it was clear that because McKinsey did not get the consulting assignment and McKinsey was meant to have gotten the consulting assignment and so that is where the fall out went. I never went back to the Gupta’s. I never had anything to do with the Gupta’s post that discussion chair," he said.  

Former Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas, has also testified at the Zondo commission that he was offered a R600 000 bribe at the Guptas' Saxonwold compound - which he turned down. The Gupta family has denied this. 

In early April 2019, meanwhile, former Free State Economic Development MEC Mxolisi Dukwana testified that he was offered a R2m bribe by Tony Gupta at the Saxonwold residence. The money, he said, was in a briefcase.

The state capture commission, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, has been probing allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud at state entities since August 2018.

Tony Gupta, together with his brothers Ajay and Atul, and business associate Salim Essa, were sanctioned by the US Treasury in October 2019 for using "their influence with prominent politicians and parties to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains". 

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