Fri, Oct 05, 2018 - Page 6 News List

S Africa’s Nene testifies against Zuma

GRAFT PROBE:The finance minister said that Zuma fired him after he refused to back a Russian nuclear program, and described pressure to conceal ‘dubious procurement’

AFP, JOHANNESBURG

South African Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene on Wednesday gave damning testimony against former South African president Jacob Zuma, accusing him of pushing policies designed to benefit the wealthy family at the heart of a government corruption scandal.

Nene was sacked by Zuma in 2015 in a move that shocked many South Africans and foreign investors, as allegations grew that Zuma and the Gupta family were overseeing rampant state corruption.

The Gupta brothers are accused of fraudulently profiting from vast government contracts, and energy and transport deals under Zuma, who was ousted earlier this year by the African National Congress.

Nene was reappointed by new South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“I do believe that I was removed from office due to my refusal to toe the line in relation to certain projects,” Nene told a judicial inquiry into state corruption. “Those projects may have benefited the Gupta family and other close associates of the then-president ... for instance the nuclear deal and the SAA [South African Airways] strategy.”

Nene said that his then-deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, was offered his job after Nene refused to back a proposed US$100 billion Russian-built nuclear program that the Guptas were set to benefit from.

“It makes sense that those who wish to pursue a systematic strategy to raid the public coffers ... would attack the role or credibility of the national treasury,” Nene said.

Nene added that pressure was put on the treasury “to conceal dubious or irregular procurement.”

He described the cost of the proposed nuclear power stations as “astronomical” and posing a threat to the nation’s finances.

At a meeting with Zuma in 2015, when Nene declined to back the nuclear project, Nene said he received “a very tense and hostile” response from Zuma who wanted to report on progress to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The inquiry, which opened in August, is probing allegations that Zuma organized a web of graft at government departments and public enterprises in a scandal known as “state capture.”

Jonas had previously told the inquiry that one of the Gupta brothers threatened to kill him after Jonas refused to accept a US$40 million bribe.

Nene told the inquiry that he met Jonas on a balcony to avoid being bugged by the intelligence services, saying: “Even when you look at a flower pot, you are not sure.”

The Guptas owned a uranium mine, which would have seen profits soar from the nuclear deal, as well as a portfolio of mining, technology and media companies.

When Nene was fired in 2015, Zuma replaced him with a little-known loyalist who lasted four days in the job as markets dived and investors pulled out of the country.

The Indian-born Gupta brothers — Ajay, Atul and Rajesh — have left South Africa and are now based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

The inquiry chair, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, urged public officials to give evidence.

“I just hope people will realize it will be better if they come forward on their own ... rather than be dragged screaming and kicking,” he said. “This is a very serious issue in our country, the whole country wants to know what happened.”

Zuma, 76, has also been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president. He is to appear in court on Nov. 30.

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