Gupta empire crumbles

The net is finally closing around the Gupta family, members of which are now being pursued in earnest by the Hawks, with at least seven cases said to be at an “advanced stage” of investigation.

City Press understands that these cases include Atul Gupta’s offer of ministerial positions to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas and former MP Vytjie Mentor, as well as multibillion-rand Gupta contracts at state-owned enterprises including Eskom and Transnet.

Yesterday, a senior source in the security cluster told City Press: “Investigations involving entities under state capture allegations are at an advanced stage.

"At least seven will see prosecution by June with [those related to the] Vrede [dairy farm scandal] starting in less than a week or so.”

This follows this week’s raids on the Free State office of the premier, the Free State department of agriculture and the dairy farm this week.

A senior security cluster official told City Press on Friday that the Hawks seized laptops, hard drives and a copy of the server at the premier’s office, which has been occupied for nine years by new ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule.

Another senior security cluster source said the Hawks were working on establishing whether Magashule was directly involved in the failed dairy project his provincial government handed to Gupta-linked company Estina.

“They have mirrored the server in the premier’s office in the hope of finding something,” he said. “They have everything else that they need on the others.”

However, a source close to the police department said: “The raid had nothing to do with [Magashule], but with documents that would ordinarily be at his office.

"For now. The premier’s office is the nerve centre of province administration, cabinet resolutions and so on.”

In a statement on Friday, the office’s director-general, Kopung Ralikontsane, said the provincial government had undertaken to “cooperate fully with all the investigations”.

“It is in our interest that this matter is brought to its finality to allow the Free State provincial government to continue its work of changing the lives of the people for the better.

"We wish to thank the members of the public for their patience in the matter, and we wish to commit that we will regularly update them on this matter, as well as on all our activities that are implemented in line with our mandate,” he said.

Sources from the Hawks, close to the police ministry and elsewhere in the security cluster told City Press that Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who was the province’s MEC for agriculture at the time the Guptas allegedly milked his department of R220 million – is facing arrest along with his former head of department Peter Thabethe, as are at least two of the Gupta brothers.

“We are diligently dealing with it and we aren’t paying heed to public pressure or to any politician or group.

"The Hawks and the SA Police Service are working closely with National Prosecuting Authority [NPA],” said one source.

“The arrests are a done deal. It is just a matter of when.”

A senior Hawks source told City Press last week that arrest warrants had already been issued.

Zwane told news channel eNCA that he welcomed the Hawks investigation and offered to cooperate with the process.

“I am one of the people who believe in innocence until proven guilty by the court of law,” he said.

According to court papers filed in support of a preservation order obtained by the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit last week, Atul Gupta unlawfully received R10m in his bank account from Estina.

A source close to the police department said proof of this payment alone was enough to secure a warrant for his arrest.

Late last year, another senior source inside the security cluster told City Press that Zwane would be arrested “before Christmas”.

MORE ‘ADVANCED’ CASES

City Press understands that the other “advanced” cases revolved around Ajay Gupta’s offer to get Jonas appointed as finance minister and the allegation that Jonas would be paid R600m if he agreed to work with them.

In a supplementary affidavit deposed in December 2016, Jonas says he was invited to a meeting at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Rosebank by President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane and businessman and fixer Fana Hlongwane, after which they went to the Guptas’ home in Saxonwold, where Ajay Gupta offered him the finance minister’s job.

However, Ajay Gupta denied under oath that he made the offer.

Another senior security cluster source told City Press this week that the Hawks had subpoenaed the hotel to provide them with footage of the meeting to confirm Jonas’ version of events.

In her affidavit, Mentor stated that Ajay Gupta offered her a job as public enterprises minister in exchange for her help “to supply Eskom with coal” and “influence SAA” to drop a lucrative route to India in favour of an airline the family had links to.

Other “advanced” cases, a source close to the police department said, included investigations into Gupta contracts at Transnet, where they allegedly skimmed R5.3 billion in kickbacks off a R50bn tender to build locomotives; at Eskom, to which the Guptas’ Optimum coal mine supplied substandard coal at inflated prices; and at Denel, where amaBhungane reported that the Guptas allegedly tried to sell Denel’s intellectual property to India while watering down the state-owned company’s stake in their joint venture by half.

“It’s been happening. We have been getting preservation orders, and turning witnesses since July last year, when we ramped up our investigations,” he said.

The source also said the authorities were not relying on the #GuptaLeaks documents for evidence, saying: “Leaked documents aren’t part of the case.

"They don’t assist but spoil cases. We have our own evidence.”

IN VREDE YESTERDAY

Meanwhile, in Vrede yesterday, scores of community members arrived at the Vrede Police Station to make statements to Hawks officers.

One of the beneficiaries, Matebesi Sibiloane (55), said officers asked him who had promised him that he would benefit from the farm and how much work and money he would eventually receive from it.

“I told them that it was Mosebenzi Zwane who promised me that.

“I also said that I received no work or money from the farm, even though I had 35 years’ experience on a dairy farm and could easily contribute to it.”

Another beneficiary, Bongani Khubheka (40), said police were on the farm to count the cows and examine the equipment.

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi, confirmed that interviews were conducted with local residents yesterday.

Kubheka said the beneficiaries were not thrilled by the developments, because it meant they would have to wait longer before seeing any money.

“We are waiting for our money since 2013. It is time that the Free State government is held responsible and gives us our due,” he said.

He said there was no other work in the area and the farm could create up to 400 jobs if it was managed properly.

Another beneficiary, Bafana Mbuli (29), said he smelt a rat in 2015, when Zwane told beneficiaries that cows were going to be imported to the farm from India.

“We feel that the government has left us in the lurch. They stole from the poor people who they are supposed to support,” he said.

GUPTA EMPIRE STARTS TO CRUMBLE

Workers at the Guptas’ Optimum Coal mine said they were in dire straits after not being paid this past week.

Several workers for a contractor on the mine on Friday showed a letter to Rapport in Pullens Hope, the settlement between Optimum’s headquarters and the Hendrina power station.

The typed letter, dated Thursday, states that the contractor had a cash flow problem “due to events out of their control”.

It states that workers must be patient and inform their banks about a delay in getting their salaries.

The company hoped the problem would be resolved this week.

One mine insider said that, as far as he knew, at least 100 workers had not been paid.

Another worker said Optimum had not paid several contractors.

Several Pullens Hope residents spoke of a helicopter landing on a soccer field next to Optimum’s head office.

They didn’t know who got out of it, only that they had bodyguards and appeared to be “well looked after”.

Last year, the Guptas said they were selling the mine to Swiss company Charles King SA for R2.97bn, in a transaction to be concluded over a period of time.

The company belongs to United Arab Emirates resident Amin Alzarooni.

However, one of the contractors referred queries to Gupta-owned company Oakbay, which he said still owned the mine.

Eskom said Optimum was still delivering coal according to their contract, but that all was not well there.

One worker, a storeman, said he had four children who asked him on Thursday if he would be bringing money home. He said he told them: “Maybe tomorrow.”

“We don’t know what the problem is. We must buy food and pay school fees,” he said.

A contractor who asked not to be named said the mine’s management no longer took his calls.

“We are honest workers. We just want our money,” he said.

Another contractor said he was “scared to speak out”.

“You know, the Guptas are dangerous people,” he said.