One of the Gupta brothers told former consulting editor of the now defunct ANN7, Rajesh Sundaram, that he had the government in his pocket and was not bothered by any legalities.

In his second day on the witness stand on Tuesday, Sundaram told the state-capture commission of inquiry how the Gupta family illegally shipped in labourers from India to SA to work on their 24-hour news channel.

He noted that a large number of the labourers came from India on tourist visas and worked in setting up ANN7, which he dismissed as a “mafia and propaganda station”.

Sundaram said the employees were all paid in cash in India before coming to SA. “This is something I know is a pure violation of tax laws in India.” 

However, he noted that Atul Gupta and Oakbay Investments’ former CEO Nazeem Howa knew about the set-up and were OK with it. “[The workers] were being paid in India for the work they were doing here in SA.”

Sundaram told commission chair, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, that when he questioned the legality of the arrangement with Atul, the businessman told him not to worry. “Atul Gupta said: ‘I have the government in my pocket, you don’t worry about what is legal and illegal.’ Multiple times Atul said we have got the government  in our pocket.”

Sundaram also revealed that Atul kept on saying the same thing, even after the Waterkloof incident in which a private jet carrying guests to the Gupta family’s lavish wedding in Sun City landed at the Waterkloof airbase, a national key point in April 2013.

The commission heard how Atul had said the officials implicated in the saga would be rewarded with “much higher positions” by Zuma’s government.

‘A hearty laugh’

Bruce Koloane was head of state of protocol at the time of the incident. He was suspended by the department of international relations and co-operation following a disciplinary hearing into the matter. However, Zuma later appointed Koloane as the SA ambassador to the Netherlands.

Sundaram said Zuma had laughed about jokes made by the Gupta delegation about the Waterkloof scandal during a meeting. “He had a hearty laugh.”

He said Atul spent a considerable amount of time trying to justify the Waterkloof incident to his employees. At one point he told them the Gupta family was close to Zuma, that they were a powerful family, and hoped the scandal would pass with time.

Parts of Sundaram’s testimony were read from his book Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV, which chronicles how Sundaram was head-hunted by the Gupta family to lead a team of Indian and SA broadcast professionals in launching the ANN7 news channel.

The book also details how Zuma was intimately involved in launching the station, Sundaram’s public fallout with the Guptas, and the threats to his life. Sundaram said Atul spoke about how Zuma was on their side and how they had helped the controversial former president when he was down and out.

On Monday, Sundaram told the commission how he was part of the Gupta delegation that met with Zuma at his official residence in Pretoria on at least three occasions in 2013.

He identified the Gupta brothers, their lieutenant Ashu Chawla, Howa, and Moegsien Williams, former editor of The New Age and later ANN7, as having formed part of the delegation. Issues pertaining to editorial policy, among other things, were discussed with Zuma at the regular review meetings where he would give feedback.

However, Williams disagreed with Sundaram’s testimony.

In an affidavit deposed with the commission, Williams said that he does not wish to testify before the commission, nor does he wish to cross-examine Sundaram. It stated that he has not done anything improper, has not committed corruption or fraud, and is not in a position to provide evidence that could help the commission make conclusive findings.

Williams also denied and disputed some of Sundaram’s evidence. He said there were no discussions with Zuma, including the alleged discussion with Zuma on editorial policy. Williams dismissed Sundaram as an individual “with an axe to grind”.

The state-capture commission continues on Wednesday .

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za