A key witness in an inquiry into corruption in the South African government testified on Friday that he had been offered a 44 million dollar bribe by associates of former President Jacob Zuma, who threatened to kill him if he went public.
Former Deputy Finance Minister, Mcebisi Jonas’ shocking testimony implicates both Zuma’s close friends, the Guptas – an Indian business family – and his businessman son Duduzane Zuma.
Jonas says the Guptas offered him the position of finance minister and the 44 million dollar bribe if he agreed to essentially become their lackey and fire several officials.
He alleged that they wanted to get rid of then Finance Minister, Nhlanla Nene, because he refused to approve a nuclear deal the president wanted.
The deputy minister says he was angered and refused the bribe, but Zuma later fired Nene anyway.
“At the end of the meeting, Mr Gupta repeated that they had information on me and if I suggested that the meeting had occurred, they would kill me,” he told the inquiry.
The meeting had been organised by Duduzane Zuma, a business partner of the Gupta brothers, who were in the room when it took place at the Indian family’s Johannesburg mansion.
“You must understand that we are in control of everything,” Jonas cited one of the Guptas as telling him, referring to the police, the state prosecutor and the national intelligence agency.
“The old man will do anything we tell him to do,” Jonas quoted one of the Gupta brothers as saying in reference to then-president Zuma.
The inquiry, which started on Monday and may run for months, is seen by many in South Africa as an indictment of the ruling African National Congress (ANC)- the party of Nelson Mandela which has been badly damaged by the scandals.
The inquiry, an effort to gather evidence for future prosecution, is investigating allegations of so-called ‘state capture,’ illicit influence over government appointments and tenders, corruption and fraud.
The ANC forced Zuma to resign in February in the wake of growing anger at a spate of scandals during his two terms in office.
Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
Zuma is also on trial in a long-running legal saga that dates back to 1999 over alleged kickbacks in a multibillion-dollar arms deal with a French company, Thales, which Zuma oversaw as vice president.
In 2007, Zuma was charged with 16 counts of racketeering, corruption, money laundering and fraud.
The charges – relating to 783 payments in relation to the Thales deal – were dropped before he assumed the presidency in 2009.
After years of legal challenges, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) decided Zuma – dubbed “the teflon president” for his ability to weather scandal after scandal – must face trial.
It is likely to drag on in court for years.
South Africa’s current President Cyril Ramaphosa, who has promised to clean up the ANC, supports the ‘state capture’ inquiry.
His Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, was in attendance on Friday.
Gordhan praised Jonas for his testimony, telling local media: “He is extremely brave … this is what a true patriot does.”