The State Capture inquiry continued to hear evidence about how the Gupta empire laundered money from the Estina Dairy project and Transnet deals on Friday but all eyes will soon turn to the Constitutional Court after the commission has asked it compel former president Jacob Zuma to give evidence from 18 to 22 January and 15 to 19 February 2021.
The State Capture inquiry served two summonses on Jacob Zuma last week and early this week informing the former president he is required to appear between 18 to 22 January and 15 to 19 February 2021.
On Thursday, the commission lodged an urgent application for direct access to the Constitutional Court requesting an order to comply with the summonses, appear on the scheduled dates and answer the questions put to him.
Commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo announced he would approach the court to compel the former head of state to appear after Zuma left the hearings without permission after his application for Zondo to recuse himself was denied on 19 November 2020.
Zondo also instructed the head of his legal team to lay a criminal charge against Zuma for leaving the commission without permission, which is a clear criminal offence.
In a statement issued on Friday, the commission said it wants the Constitutional Court to also issue an order declaring: that Zuma’s walkout was unlawful, that he is required to account for his exercise of public power while he was president, that he cannot leave the commission without Zondo’s permission, and that Zuma pays the commission’s legal fees in the case.
In his affidavit, commission secretary Professor Itumeleng Mosala said the order to compel him to answer questions would be “subject only to the privilege against self-incrimination”, a strategy employed by former SAA chair Dudu Myeni.
The request order for Zuma to attend is also subject to whether he might have a valid excuse.
In a statement issued after his walkout, Zuma’s foundation claimed, without evidence, that the former president refused to legitimise a process marred by irregularities and would rather not participate than be bullied.
“Zuma assures us that he would rather face jail than allow himself to be bullied by an irregular, manipulated and unlawful process,” said the Jacob Zuma Foundation.
Mosala described the situation as “grave” and said the commission did not take its application lightly. Its first hurdle will be to convince the court that the matter falls within its jurisdiction or that it should be granted direct access to the court. Mosala said he believes Zuma will comply with an order from the country’s highest court.
He said only the Constitutional Court can decide if a president has failed to fulfil a constitutional obligation and the public protector, in her state capture report, said Zuma must account for his role in the alleged corruption. The commission also has a specific mandate to ensure Zuma provides his version of events.
Mosala said that if the court does not find the matter falls within its jurisdiction, it should grant the commission direct access because it’s “a constitutional matter of great public importance”.
While Zondo will no doubt be gearing up to see Zuma’s legal response to the commission’s 389-page application, he continued hearing the testimony of Paul Holden, director of investigations at London-based Shadow World Investigations, on Friday.
Holden has described how the Gupta family and its associates established an intricate web to launder its ill-gotten gains, which if it were not for the #GuptaLeaks would likely have evaded investigators and banks’ compliance units.
Holden took Zondo through payments from the Free State government to Estina Dairy, which scored R280-million from the province for a programme meant to benefit emerging black farmers.
Estina was obligated to show it had invested its own money in the programme, but tracing the money Holden explained how all of the initial funds came from the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments to Estina director Kamal Vasram and then back to Oakbay through various laundering schemes.
Holden showed how the Guptas and their associates sought to cover their tracks by transferring money through offshore accounts and creating loans guaranteed by fixed deposit accounts, which could throw off investigators and then transferring money to its intended source.
Speaking on the trail of one such tranche paid to Estina by the Free State government, Holden said, “The only possible reason I can think is to create a degree of confusion in tracing the funds to create a distance between Oakbay and Estina so that when an investigator was to look at the Estina Standard Bank [account], for example, they’ll be seeing a whole range of transfers in from Kamal Vasram, who is the sole director of Estina.”
He continued, “As soon as funds move from South Africa offshore and certainly as soon as they move into a jurisdiction like UAE or Dubai where the likelihood of compliance with mutual legal assistance requests may not be as likely as the United States or UK, it becomes increasingly difficult to access those sort of bank statements and it creates effectively a blindspot that we have luckily been able to fill with the Gupta leaks.”
The commission adjourned on Friday and Holden will continue his testimony on Monday. DM