Mcebisi Jonas. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Mcebisi Jonas. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

MTN group chair Mcebisi Jonas has dismissed as “hearsay” allegations that he meddled with tenders to supply aircraft maintenance parts to SAA Technical (SAAT).

The allegation against Jonas covered the time he was the deputy minister of finance and were made by airline executive Sibongile Sambo when she was  giving testimony at the state capture commission on Tuesday.

Sambo is the founder of SRS Aviation, a 100% female black-owned aviation company providing private jets and helicopter rental services to both the private and public customers.

In her testimony to the commission, chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, Sambo alleged that when Jonas was deputy finance minister, a meeting was organised by a Rafique Bagus for Jonas to be introduced to AAR Corporation (AAR), a US-based aviation company that was involved in various collaborative projects with SRS Aviation. This was in relation to  tenders to supply aircraft maintenance parts to SAAT.

Sambo suggested that Jonas had an undisclosed interest in a proposed black economic empowerment consortia involved with AAR, and that a Bongani More, who allegedly held shares on his behalf, was his relative.

Jonas is a key whistle-blower who exposed the state capture scandal that has cost the government more than R500bn. In his book, After Dawn: Hope after State Capture, the former deputy minister chronicles how the infamous Gupta brothers, who are friends of former president Jacob Zuma, offered him the position of finance minister in exchange for R600m.

In her affidavit, which Business Day has seen, Sambo said in part: “I was informed that Mr More’s allocated 13.33% shares were being held for the then deputy minister of finance, namely Mr Mcebisi Jonas ... Since then I had decided to walk away from this tender.”

Jonas hit back on Wednesday, saying in a statement: “This is false. She provides no evidence for this gratuitous allegation, other than what is colloquially referred to as 'double hearsay'.  

“The allegation that I am related to Bongani More or that he held shares on my behalf in the BEE consortium is false. I have never held any interest whatsoever in any BEE consortium that partnered with AAR,” said Jonas.

“Neither of the allegations she makes about me are based on any personal knowledge, nor has she provided any documentary evidence for the allegations made. It is correct that I was invited to a dinner in Cape Town where I was introduced to a Ms Jackson, representative of AAR, whom I was informed was interested in investing in SA.”

Jonas, who is a former chair and nonexecutive director of the Public Investment Corporation (PIC), said he told Jackson that she should speak to the relevant management of SAA. “I made it clear that I was not involved in the management of either SAA or SAAT.”

SAA and subsidiary SAAT are among key state-owned enterprises badly affected by state capture, leading to government placing the cash-strapped airline under business rescue late in 2019.

On Friday, President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a proclamation for a Special Investigating Unit investigation into SAA's affairs, specifically into “intentional or negligent loss of public money or damage to public property”, and “improper or unlawful conduct” by SAA officials or employees.

The government has provided more than R20.5bn in fiscal support to SAA over the past three years. Last week, the national carrier received a R3.5bn emergency loan from the Development Bank of Southern Africa to ease its mounting financial crisis, as selected flights were cancelled or consolidated in a bid to lower costs.

Jonas, who also serves on the board of Northam Platinum, noted that the bulk of Sambo's affidavit appears to relate to the complaints arising from the manner in which she claimed to have been treated by AAR.

“I do not believe that Ms Sambo’s unsubstantiated allegations [against me] should be left unchallenged.” 

mkentanel@businesslive.co.za