Johannesburg - New information shows a Gupta web was spun around the minister of public enterprises. But was it a trap for a target or a cocoon for an ally?
Three people close to public enterprises minister Lynne Brown have links to the Gupta family, we can reveal. This casts a new light on her role in the appointment of "captured" directors at state-owned companies and her failure to act against the Guptas' key enablers.
The three are her personal assistant, her romantic partner and her director general.
This suggests the Guptas engineered several channels to the minister, quite apart from any direct communication they may have had with her.
These links, coupled with her refusal to engage with questions about her own conduct, raise the spectre of Brown's own capture by Gupta-family interests.
Among queries that Brown declined to answer were allegations she had met personally with members of the Gupta family or their close associates, such as Salim Essa, on at least three occasions, including while attending defence exhibitions in the United Arab Emirates, where some of the family is now based.
In response to more than 30 detailed questions, Brown's spokesperson Colin Cruywagen simply issued a statement passing responsibility to the Hawks.
"Minister Brown is on record supporting the Hawks' investigations into allegations of corruption published by media over the past month or two... The department has been instructed to assist the probe by making documents and officials available to the investigation as required."
The PA: Kim Davids
Brown's personal assistant Kim Davids is at the centre of concerns about Gupta influence.
Davids is the daughter of a close associate of the minister, Michelle McMaster, and has been working with Brown in the Western Cape ANC since 2010.
According to a source familiar with the relationship, Davids exercises significant sway over the minister. Another source said ANC officials in Cape Town had cautioned Brown against taking Davids into the ministry because they viewed her as a loose cannon, but were ignored.
Brown seems to have pulled strings to get her the position.
Davids' LinkedIn profile suggests she has only a middle-school qualification, but Brown is alleged to have appointed her as a communications director in her department, a post for which a degree is required.
The appointment – a permanent position – gives Davids greater job security and circumvents the usual practice of appointing ministerial staff such as a PA on contract.
Davids is also alleged to have enjoyed influence in areas way beyond her formal role.
An Eskom source said Davids appeared to be more powerful than one would expect from a personal assistant to the point that she would "tackle senior officials" in meetings, "even instructing" them on occasion.
Among the allegations put to Brown was the claim that Davids personally managed the process to select new board appointments to state-owned enterprises during 2015, when some crucial appointments of persons sympathetic to the Guptas were made.
Notable among these was the purge of the Denel board but for one Gupta associate, Johannes "Sparks" Motseki, and the appointment of a new board chaired by Dan Mantsha, whom the #GuptaLeaks have unmasked as another close Gupta associate.
It was put to Brown that Davids' involvement in the appointment process bypassed established practice and personnel at the public enterprises department. She did not respond.
AmaBhungane previously reported how in about June 2015 the entire Denel board file was uplifted from the department of public enterprises by Brown's ministerial office and the department was thereafter excluded from the selection process.
Now it appears that Davids was crucial to those events.
Rumours in the department suggested Davids received some board nominations directly from the Guptas or their associates – and was also in regular communication with them.
Neither Brown nor Davids responded to this allegation, but the #GuptaLeaks emails provide some substantiation for those suspicions.
They show that Davids approached Essa, the Gupta lieutenant, in April 2015, apparently about sponsoring a software training course in India for her husband-to-be, Diego Mateus.
Essa forwarded the request to Tony Gupta.
Then, in December 2015 Kim Davids flew to Dubai and stayed at the Oberoi hotel between 27 December 2015 and 1 January 2016.
The bill was AED 9,100 (about R32,000) and was forwarded to Tony Gupta to approve payment.
The emails also show that a limousine was booked to take Davids to the Gupta residence in the exclusive Emirates Hills estate.
Neither Brown nor Davids responded to questions about the visit, but Davids insists there was nothing untoward about her trip.
In an emailed statement, she said: "In December 2015, I took leave and booked a holiday with my fiancé [Mateus] in Portugal. On the way, in transit in Dubai, I fell ill, when I learned I was pregnant. We returned home, paying our own costs. I reject with contempt those unfounded allegations that cast doubt on my integrity."
However, the #GuptaLeaks directly contradict Davids, showing that a reservation for "Kim David" was made by Gupta executive Ashu Chawla already on 22 December, five days before her supposedly unplanned arrival on 27 December.
The day before her arrival, on the morning of 26 December, the emails show that Essa was assuring Chawla that Davids would be arriving early at the hotel the next day, about 09:00.
The partner: Ingrid Tufvesson
Davids' sister and mother are also former business associates of Ingrid Tufvesson, Brown's romantic partner.
Brown has had a longstanding relationship with Tufvesson, a higher education academic and transformation consultant.
Tufvesson is a director of a company called Sores OMS, which appears to have two connections with the Gupta family.
Company registration records show Soo Young "Heather" Jeon was appointed a director of the company on 2 November 2015 – the same day as Tufvesson – and then was removed on 30 November 2015.
Jeon is a director of a number of companies in the Gupta stable and the #GuptaLeaks show she is a trusted agent for them in Dubai.
The other remaining director in Sores OMS, also appointed on the same day as Tufvesson, is the wife of a Balkan diplomat based in India. The #GuptaLeaks show the diplomat and his wife have been guests of the Gupta family in South Africa, and that the husband sent the wife's CV to Tony Gupta a few months after.
Both the minister and Tufvesson were invited to explain the connection to Jeon and the diplomat's wife but failed to do so.
Neither responded to these specific questions but Tufvesson told amaBhungane: "I am a private person, who is doing my best with limited means to support myself and my dependents singlehandedly.
"This being said, I want to categorically state on record that other than what I read or see about the Guptas in the media I have never met them personally, have not had any dealings with them, and have not been approached in any way, shape or form on their behalf.
"To the best of my knowledge, I do not know whether any of the persons I have had contact with in my business endeavours ever had dealings with the Guptas. If they did, they never told me about the same, nor was this issue ever raised with me in any form or fashion as revelations about the Guptas are relatively new in the media.
"All my recent and relevant business interests, assets and liabilities have been legally disclosed to government last year per the required protocols and nothing has changed yet, except that my savings have been reduced."
The DG: Richard Seleke
On 5 November 2015, a routine cabinet statement revealed that an obscure Free State bureaucrat, Richard Seleke, had been appointed the new director-general of the public enterprises department.
At the time, he was the head of the Free State department of economic development. Mosebenzi Zwane had been his MEC until September 2015, when Zwane was unexpectedly elevated to become national minister of mineral resources, seemingly at the behest of the Guptas.
As we have previously reported, the #Guptaleaks show Seleke's CV was emailed to the president's son, Duduzane Zuma, on 29 June 2015. The email was forwarded from an anonymous address using the pseudonym"Inforportal1".
The forwarded email contained the words: "Evening sir please find attached my CV and supporting documents. Regards, Richard."
Seleke has issued a curious half denial about this exchange. He told the Sunday Times, which first reported the email: "That is not my e-mail address. Lots of people have my CV and I cannot be held accountable for things which I have no control over."
In fact, other emails suggest "infoportal1" was used by Salim Essa or Tony Gupta, meaning Seleke might have sent his email to this anonymised address to hide his tracks.
Pertinently, neither Brown nor Seleke responded when challenged to deny that he sent such an email containing his CV on the date in question.
But Seleke challenged the Sunday Times to find fault with the way he was appointed: "I was moved from the position of DG at economic affairs to this one without a cent raise," he was reported as saying.
In fact, there are serious question marks relating to the way Seleke was appointed.
Among the allegations posed to Seleke and Brown was the claim that the Guptas or their associates had proposed Seleke as a candidate after the post had been advertised and applications closed.
On top of that, the panel set up to interview Seleke included his former boss, Zwane, who was one of Seleke's referees on his CV, though Zwane's potentially irregular inclusion was stopped by Brown.
They didn't respond to these allegations either.
Brown and the Guptas
The minister has been evasive about her own relationship with the Guptas.
At a press conference in April 2016, she stated that she had once met one of the brothers about 15 years before, implying, but not saying, that this was the only time.
In May 2016, the minister was asked a detailed parliamentary question about any meetings she may have had with the Guptas or their employees or close associates. The minister evaded this question by replying merely that "the duties of ministers and deputy ministers are outlined in the ministerial handbook".
Now Brown again evaded answering questions we put to her, including that she met the Guptas when she attended a defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi in February 2015, the Dubai Airshow in November 2015 and at least once in Gauteng and once in Cape Town since her appointment as minister.
Brown's appointment of compromised directors
The minister has defended her appointments and attempted to shift responsibility for her choices to cabinet and the ANC, though, legally, the responsibility is hers.
Since then, numerous directors at Eskom have resigned following the exposure of their ties to the Gupta circle.
They include former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe and former chairperson Ben Ngubane, now shown to have intervened repeatedly to benefit the Gupta purchase of Optimum Coal; Mark Pamensky, who gave the Guptas advice about their deals with Eskom despite being on the Eskom board; Nazia Carrim, who is married to Essa's cousin and was contracted by Essa to draw up Duduzane Zuma's antenuptial contract; and Viroshini Naidoo, who is married to Essa's close associate Kuben Moodley.
Brown's culpability has since been underlined by the #GuptaLeaks, a report by Advocate Geoff Budlender, the public protector's State of Capture report and other disclosures.
Matters that stand out include her acquiescence in the re-appointment of Molefe as the chief executive of Eskom, which ultimately backfired – as well as her failure to act against Denel chair Mantsha or Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh, despite the #GuptaLeaks having exposed Singh and Mantsha as compromised.
Mantsha appears to have been captured by the Guptas, with emails showing he sent them a municipal bill, enjoyed extensive travel and hotel stays at their expense and shared confidential government documents with them or their agents.
He remains in his position.
Last week the Eskom board finally suspended Singh, with Brown and Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba's concurrence, but reportedly only after massive pressure from Eskom lenders.
As chief financial officer, Singh's job included the duty to "act with fidelity, honesty, integrity and in the best interests of the public entity in managing the financial affairs of the public entity".
Yet, under his watch, Transnet signed a contract with communications company Neotel, after which millions were kicked back to the Guptas via a front company called Homix.
Transnet also awarded contracts to China South Rail in a series of locomotive contracts, for which billions were to be kicked back to the Guptas.
At both Transnet and Eskom, Singh oversaw the payment of hundreds of millions to Essa's Trillian – without contracts.
After he arrived at Eskom, the company helped the Guptas to buy Optimum, by placing pressure on its previous owner, issuing a R1.6bn bank guarantee and providing a prepayment for coal.
Contemporaneously, he enjoyed multiple luxury trips to Dubai, bankrolled by the Guptas.
AmaBhungane put it to Brown that the pattern was simply too consistent to be a coincidence.
The responsibility for the ruinous management of state owned companies was hers, yet she had repeatedly failed to take the public into her confidence regarding the process and rationale behind such tainted appointments.
We asked: "Why should we not conclude that the minister herself has been captured by the Guptas and their associates?"
Brown's spokesperson said Brown was "the first member of the executive to call for further investigation into the former Public Protector's State of Capture Report".
"Proper investigative processes are the only mechanisms that can lift the clouds hanging over state owned companies – and by extension, over the sovereign."
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