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31/01/2018 15:47 SAST | Updated 31/01/2018 15:47 SAST

State Capture: Ben Martins Saw No Evil, Heard No Evil

"I saw nothing untoward about Duduzane Zuma accompanying his business associate to a meeting, [or] any necessity to raise the issue with the president.”

Ben Martins.
Netwerk24
Ben Martins.

Deputy public enterprises minister Ben Martins told MPs on Wednesday that he arranged a meeting between Rajesh "Tony" Gupta and Prasa CEO Lucky Montana to forestall a possible court action over a multibillion-rand tender for commuter trains.

Testifying before the parliamentary inquiry into state capture, he said the meeting, held in 2012 during his tenure as transport minister, took place at his official ministerial residence in Pretoria.

Present were himself, Montana, Tony Gupta and Duduzane Zuma.

Martins' testimony confirms evidence given by Montana to the inquiry just 24 hours earlier – that it was Martins who arranged the meeting, and not Montana.

Martins said Tony Gupta had called him on his office landline sometime after he was appointed as minister of transport.

"He asked many questions about Prasa, about the tender to acquire locomotives, as he had an interest in the tender. I told him that it was my understanding that the tender process had run its course, and that it was about to end.

"He asked more questions about whether the tender was advertised, in which print media it was advertised, [and] for how long it had been open for submissions. He further stated that it was his belief and view that the tender process had not been open and transparent, and that he reserved his right to challenge the process in court."

Martins said he had told Tony Gupta that he was within his rights to take whatever legal action he felt necessary.

"I, however, suggested that he first seek clarity to the questions... from the CEO of Prasa, Mr Lucky Montana, before taking the matter to court. I then organised the meeting and invited him and Lucky Montana to [my] official residence."

Martins claimed that the aim of the meeting was to clarify answers to the questions Tony Gupta had posed.

"I did not at any stage ask Mr Montana to unduly, irregularly or illegally assist Mr Gupta. There was no unlawful or malicious intent on my part in facilitating the meeting."

At the meeting, Tony Gupta was told about the advanced stage of the tender process, and that it could not be reversed.

"In conclusion, Mr Tony Gupta indicated that he would consider his options of taking the tender process on review. That brought the discussion to an end."

Martins also told the inquiry that back in 2012, the public image of members of the Gupta family was not what it was nowadays, in 2018.

"Namely, a family perceived and projected as the personification of corruption incarnate."

In 2012, the Gupta brothers were not personae non gratae.

"All I knew then was they were a family originally from India, who owned a medium-sized BEE company of moderate means named Sahara, and that they were trying to expand their business interests beyond the confines of the computer market into other business sectors."

During his tenure as transport minister, it was not out of the ordinary for the ministry and department to receive such queries relating to tenders and other issues.

Martins said he had never presided over any meeting "where the intent was corrupt and the outcome was the commission of a crime".

Martins also described a follow-up meeting with Tony Gupta, arranged at Montana's request on Montana's return from an international rail conference in Germany.

"In September 2012, I received a call [from Montana] requesting a meeting. He was shocked, as he had learned [while at the conference] that the Gupta brothers had told the rolling stock manufacturers that they worked for President Zuma, myself, and himself."

Upon Montana's return, the meeting took place.

"I did not remember each and every detail... but I do remember Mr Montana raising the matter of misrepresentation sharply.

"I also sternly rebuked Mr Tony Gupta for using the name of the president, myself and Mr Montana. The meeting ended acrimoniously."

In his testimony on Tuesday, Montana alleged that at this meeting, Tony Gupta – in front of Martins – had offered him payment in Dubai for any help.

"One of the things they said to me – and Tony Gupta said it at the meeting, in the presence of the minister – was that 'you are not going to be at Prasa forever. We can arrange something for you, that you get it in Dubai yourself [sic]'."

Later, they had told him: "Work with us, we'll then take care of you."

Asked about this on Wednesday, Martins said he did "not recall this being raised in my presence".

EFF MP Marshall Dlamini was curious about Duduzane Zuma's presence at the 2012 meeting, and asked Martins if he knew the president's son was going to be there.

"No, I didn't know that [he] was coming to the meeting," Martins told him.

Marshall wanted to know if he had been shocked to see Duduzane, "because the meeting was arranged by the Guptas, and Duduzane rocks up".

Martins said he was not shocked, because he knew Duduzane worked with Tony Gupta.

"I knew that he works with Tony Gupta. How do I know that? It's public knowledge. And Duduzane Gupta [sic], it's not the first time I've met him."

Marshall then asked him if he'd raised the matter with President Jacob Zuma.

"Did you go back to Jacob Zuma and say: 'President, I'm a member of your Cabinet. I arranged for a meeting with the Guptas to meet the [Prasa] CEO, and your son arrived there'?"

Martins said he had not.

"No, I saw nothing untoward about Duduzane Zuma accompanying his business associate to a meeting. And I did not see any necessity to raise the issue with the president."

"Nothing?" Marshall queried.

"Nothing," Martins confirmed.

"Yoh!" exclaimed Marshall, to laughter from MPs.

Referring to testimony presented to the inquiry last year by former Eskom legal head Suzanne Daniels, Martins once again denied he was at a meeting at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg on July 29 last year.

According to Daniel's testimony, Martins was present at the meeting, which involved, among others, Ajay Gupta and Gupta associate Salim Essa.

But Martins on Wednesday said his ministerial diary showed that on that day he had spent the morning at a funeral, the afternoon at an ANC lekgotla, and the evening at a hotel having dinner with colleagues. Between these events, he had been in the company of two members of the VIP protection unit.

Asked why Daniels would place him at the meeting if he was not, Martins said he did not know.

At the end of Wednesday's session, committee chair Zukiswa Rantho took Martins to task for a statement he issued last year, following Daniels' testimony. At the time, he accused the inquiry of being a "kangaroo court".

"The press statement you made was insulting to the committee... you owe us an apology," Rantho told him.