I had several meetings with the Guptas, Rob Davies confirms
The trade and industry minister says the period after 2009 was one in which the government made considerable effort to enhance relations with India
Trade and industry minister Rob Davies has confirmed that he met members of the controversial Gupta family on a number occasions, and says he is willing to appear before the commission of inquiry into state capture.
“As previously indicated, including in an engagement with the former public protector as she was preparing her report ‘The State of Capture’, I met with members of the Gupta family on a number of occasions between 2009 and 2013,” Davies said in a written reply to a question from the DA in Parliament, which was published on Monday.
“As minister of trade and industry, my work involves frequent interactions with a wide range of business people as well as actual or potential investors.”
Earlier in October, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that he had accepted the resignation of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister and appointed former South African Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni to the post.
Nene asked Ramaphosa to relieve him of his duties following public pressure over his testimony at the state capture inquiry, at which he admitted to meeting the Gupta family on numerous occasions, and at their private Saxonwold home. Nene previously told broadcaster eNCA that he had not had any engagements with the Guptas and had only “bumped into” them at official functions.
A cache of leaked e-mail correspondence between the Gupta family and its associates, including cabinet ministers and former president Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane‚ has shown how they influenced government operations
In his reply, Davies said that in 2009, he had received a request to meet Duduzane Zuma to discuss some of his business ideas.
“I knew Duduzane since he was a child in Maputo and agreed to a meeting at my residence in Cape Town. Mr Zuma arrived with Mr Ajay Gupta and this was the first time that I met a member of that family. Mr Gupta told me that his company had spent a considerable sum on preparation of a feasibility study for a mining project, which had been submitted to the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC).
‘‘[Gupta] complained that the application was taking a long time to process and that they were in danger of losing the option to buy from the existing owners. If this happened, he said, hundreds of workers would lose their jobs. As with innumerable similar representations made to me both before and since, I responded saying that as minister I could not and would not get involved in deciding on the merits of any particular application.”
Davies said he told Gupta that professionals were employed to assess applications according to defined criteria.
“In this regard I had confidence in the robustness of the procedures of the IDC, overseen by a board then chaired by the wife of a prominent opposition politician. I did, however, say I would refer his complaint of the time delay to the IDC — as I have with numerous other similar complaints with regard to procedures by the department or agencies reporting to it,” said Davies.
He said the IDC had advised him that they would assemble a team to take the application to the point of decision.
“I was never advised as to whether the project had merit or otherwise, nor did I give or receive any directive as to the outcome of the decision. Shortly thereafter, the IDC ceased reporting to the minister of trade and industry and I heard nothing further of the progress of this application.”
‘Broad and general discussion’
Davies said the period after 2009 was one in which government made considerable effort to enhance relations with India, bilaterally and within the context of Brics.
“I participated in numerous business fora, both in SA and India, organised by different formations in both countries. Members of the Gupta family attended a number of these. On a few occasions (maybe five or six times), I accepted invitations to social events organised by members of the Gupta family (as at the time did many other politicians, including the premier of the Western Cape, Helen Zille). These included a cultural event on the sidelines of an international cricket match and, on occasion, I also went to a few events at their residence. Most of these were social occasions where several other people were also present.
“On very few occasions, I accepted personal dinner invitations with my wife at which the mother of the Gupta brothers was also present. Discussion on these occasions were broad and general and mostly social in nature with an emphasis at the time on the value of deepening economic relations with India. They also informed me, in general terms, of their plans to establish a new newspaper,” said Davies.
He said on one occasion he was invited, while on a visit to Mumbai, to a warehouse where computers assembled at the family’s facilities in SA were received for export to India.
“At the end of this visit, I was given a laptop computer. I subsequently donated this for use by the small enterprise development agency and showed the documentation on this to the former public protector.”
He said he attended the family's wedding at Sun City because he was ‘‘under the impression that there would be a number of Indian business people and government officials’’ he would interact with.
“That, in fact, did not materialise. Thereafter I have had no direct contact with any member of the Gupta family. As indicated earlier, the information given above was shared with the former public protector and her team, who interviewed me in preparation of her report, ‘The State of Capture’. I am similarly prepared to interact with the … [state capture] commission or its investigators in any way they see fit,” Davies said.