Johannesburg, Apr 29 (PTI) Former South African mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who is accused of assisting the controversial Gupta brothers in acquiring mines in the country, requested a lift in their private jet as he was suffering from a throat infection, he told a commission of inquiry into state capture.
Zwane denied influencing a 2015 meeting in Switzerland that resulted in the sale of Glencore's Optimum coal mine to the Gupta-owned company Tegeta.
Reports at the time indicated that the Guptas then used the mine to bid for contracts at an escalated cost.
Zwane has also been accused of diverting funds for another Gupta-linked venture, the Estina Dairy Farm project, to upskill small farmers in the Free State province with government funding.
Although experts were initially brought in from India, the project failed due to most of the funds being allegedly diverted to offshore bank accounts held by the Guptas. Zwane was the provincial minister of agriculture at the time.
Rajesh Gupta (also known as Tony), who along with his brothers Ajay and Atul Gupta have been accused of looting state enterprises of billions of rands because of their closeness to former president Jacob Zuma, was present at the Switzerland meeting.
Zwane said when he learnt that Gupta was flying to India, he asked for a lift in their private jet to avoid communication problems on his scheduled commercial flight because of his throat issue.
'My itinerary after Switzerland was taking me to India on an official visit, paid for by the department,' Zwane said.
He said that at the conclusion of the meeting, when he indicated he was going on to India, Tony Gupta told him he was going too.
'Due to my condition at that point, struggling with my voice because of the throat, I requested them to give me a lift to India (in their private jet),' the minister said.
Zwane said he concluded his scheduled business visits in India with possible investors and then had an operation in a public hospital.
“Coming back from India, I had to ask a lift again from Tony to Dubai (after which) I got my flight to South Africa,” he said.
Zwane said the only other time he had met the Guptas was at two Diwali functions hosted by them, which was attended by other politicians as well.
The Guptas are accused of looting billions of rands from state enterprises via the vast business empire that they built up after first arriving in South Africa from Saharanpur in India in the 1990’s as democracy dawned under the Presidency of Nelson Mandela.
They are now in self-exile in Dubai, and have consistently refused to appear before the commission to testify about their versions of the allegations, which they have denied.
South Africa has approached the United Nations to assist after a lack of cooperation from Dubai for their extradition. South Africa has no extradition treaty with Dubai.
Both the US and the UK have also slapped sanctions, including visa bans and freezing of assets. PTI FH IJT