Daniel Mantsha. Picture: SUPPLIED
Daniel Mantsha. Picture: SUPPLIED

Public enterprises minister Pravin Gordhan has slammed former Denel chair Daniel Mantsha for attacking him “in public” over the Treasury’s refusal to sign off on the Gupta-linked Denel Asia deal.

In a statement filed at the Zondo inquiry into state capture, Gordhan accused Mantsha, former president Jacob Zuma’s new attorney, of making “extraordinarily belligerent attacks” on the Treasury and him personally, while he was serving as finance minister.

The cause of those “attacks”, he said, was the Treasury’s refusal to sign off on the establishment of a joint venture between Denel and Gupta-affiliated company VR Laser Asia.

The dealings of the Gupta family, which has close relations with Zuma and his son Duduzane, have come under scrutiny at the Zondo inquiry, where several witnesses have testified about their attempts at political influence for their commercial benefit.

“VR Laser Asia is a company owned by Mr Salim Essa, a Gupta business associate, as its sole shareholder, and which has a relationship with VR Laser RSA, owned by Duduzane Zuma and Rajesh Gupta,” according to Gordhan’s statement. 

“The joint venture was contemplated purportedly to exploit Denel’s intellectual property and proprietary information in India. The joint venture was to be known as Denel Asia.”

Gordhan said reports on the Gupta leaks e-mails show that, one day after Denel submitted its pre-notification of its Public Finance Management Act  application to the Treasury for approval for the Denel Asia deal, Mantsha forwarded the confidential document to Ashu Chawla, a senior Gupta executive and the CEO of the Guptas’ Sahara Computers.

Less than a month later, Gordhan says then public enterprises minister Lynne Brown provisionally approved the deal and “set out various issues that needed to be covered in the formal Act application”. That in-principle agreement from Brown, according to the Gupta leaks reports, was e-mailed by Chawla to then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s personal assistant.

Nene was fired before any formal Act application for the Denel Asia deal could be made. His successor, Des van Rooyen, received that application a day after he was appointed. Van Rooyen, whose appointment sent the rand and JSE tanking, was fired two days later, and so he did not have time to approve it. He was replaced by Gordhan.

Under Gordhan’s leadership, the Treasury established through legal advice that the approval of both the ministers of finance and public enterprises was “required prior to the formal establishment of Denel Asia”.

After this advice was communicated to Denel and Brown, Gordhan said he and the Treasury came under fire from Mantsha.

“He demanded that I retract, in writing to the Denel board, comments and statements I had made regarding the lawfulness and desirability of the joint venture, and apologise to the Denel board. He also wanted me to acknowledge that National Treasury had failed to discharge its duties in a diligent and responsible manner, even though the reverse was actually the case.

“It is unheard of for a chairperson of a SOC [state-owned company] to attack a minister of finance in public, and for the minister of public enterprises responsible for that SOC to take no steps to reign in such attacks, to the best of my knowledge."

Mantsha, who has represented Zuma at the Zondo commission, has not responded to requests for comment on Gordhan’s affidavit. It is unclear whether he will apply to cross-examine Gordhan about his evidence against him. Denel eventually withdrew from the deal, citing reputational risk.