Now the Americans have Guptas in their sights
Whistleblowers working with US agencies probing shady use of the dollar, lawyer tells Zondo inquiry
As SA’s criminal justice system remains unable to prosecute perpetrators of grand corruption in SA, it has emerged that the Zondo commission is not the only investigation under way to break the back of state capture.
On Thursday, human rights lawyer Brian Currin testified that US law enforcement authorities are also in pursuit of the Guptas and have obtained a clone of the hard drive from a whistleblower who exposed the Gupta e-mails.
The commission’s investigators and legal team have asked Judge Raymond Zondo to admit the original hard drive and its clone containing the Gupta e-mails into evidence, not only for use in evidence at the inquiry but also to ensure the integrity of the data should there be future prosecutions and civil action.
The legal team is to make further arguments on this matter on Friday as Zondo is unsure whether all the information on the storage disks, particularly those that have still not been analysed, are relevant to the commission’s work.
It was a day of intrigue and staggering revelations at the inquiry on Thursday as Currin revealed the long, risky journey that led to the original hard drive and a clone finally being placed in the hands of the commission’s head investigator, Terrence Nombembe, earlier this year.
The data is now stored at a high-security facility in Pretoria.
Currin told Zondo about the arduous process to preserve the information on the delicate data storage devices, the original of which had been damaged, and safely move them to different parts of the world. The commission also heard about the fear and disruption to the lives of two anonymous whistleblowers who took possession of the original hard drive belonging to Gupta-owned Sahara Computers.
The two people known as “Stan” and John” and their families fled SA in fear and have been living at an undisclosed location since July 2017. They have undertaken to return to the country and give evidence at the commission in July 2019.
Currin, who was instrumental in the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), said he met Stan in February 2017 through a friend who was unable to secure the data and protect the whistleblowers.
Currin was contacted because of his experience in protecting Captain Dirk Coetzee who exposed the activities of the Vlakplaas death squad to the TRC.
In his testimony, Currin confirmed long-running rumours that law enforcement agencies in the US were probing the Guptas’ activities because of the use of the dollar in illegal activities and illicit movement of money in that country.
Currin said US investigators met him to inquire about the data and whereabouts of the whistleblowers. He said he facilitated meetings in Nairobi, Kenya between the Americans and the whistleblowers, and later with representatives of the state capture commission.
He said Stan and John were adamant that South Africans should direct the process of investigating state capture and that the information should be used for the benefit of this country’s citizens. A clone of the original hard drive was however handed to the Americans.
Currin told Zondo that to safeguard the devices and raise funds for the protection of Stan and John, he made contact with Section 27’s Mark Heywood. Heywood stored one of the devices and introduced him to Daily Maverick editor Branko Brkic and amaBhungane’s Stefaans Brummer. The two helped raise funds to relocate the whistleblowers and assigned a team of investigative reporters to trawl through the thousands of e-mails.
As he rounded up his evidence, Currin acknowledged the extensive media reportage on the Gupta e-mails that helped expose the extent of state capture.
He said the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as president and appointment of Zondo to chair the inquiry were positive indicators of a credible, inquisitorial judicial process, which informed the decision to hand over the original hard drive to the commission.
“The ultimate use of this evidence was to make it available to a credible commission of inquiry in South Africa. We wanted to assist this commission in its work so that the scourge of corruption could be tackled,” said Currin.
Zondo thanked Currin for bringing the information to the commission. He said the inquiry would still hear from Stan and John, and he intended to speak about all their roles in his final report.
“This commission deeply appreciates the role you have played to make sure that it has access to the evidence,” said Zondo.
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Heywood confirmed Currin’s version of events and said the Gupta e-mails broke through the denials of senior politicians involved and bolstered the good people in government and the ANC, making them realise how deep the crisis was.
“As Adv Currin said at the beginning of his evidence, we have an enormous debt to the two ordinary people who became whistleblowers, had their whole lives turned upside down, who are still in exile because they cannot feel safe in our country from the mafia tentacles of the Zupta network. Hopefully one day, before too long, we will be able to say their names and welcome them back to a safe and more equal SA,” said Heywood.