Whistleblower names top Zuma aide as Gupta ‘fixer’
Lakela Kaunda disputes she arranged Saxonwold meeting, with Zuma in the room next door, as claimed by Vytjie Mentor in state capture probe
Jacob Zuma’s former trusted and powerful adviser Lakela Kaunda is being accused of facilitating a meeting between state capture whistleblower Vytjie Mentor and the infamous Gupta family.
In a statement submitted to the Zondo State Capture Inquiry, for the first time Mentor names Kaunda as the person who allegedly called her in 2010 to arrange the meeting with the family at their Saxonwold compound.Kaunda, who previously served as the former president’s chief of staff and spokesperson, is contesting Mentor’s claim. She has a legal team representing her at the commission, which kicked off in Johannesburg on Monday, after being informed that she was implicated in the state capture scandal.
Mentor allegedly claims in her statement to the commission, which is chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that Kaunda phoned her to summon her to a meeting. She says she then made the trip from Cape Town to Johannesburg in the belief that her meeting was with Zuma.
Kaunda’s legal team intends to submit to the commission that this claim is false because she has never spoken to Mentor or arranged the meeting.Mentor, a former ANC MP, is scheduled to testify before the commission that, prior to a cabinet reshuffle in October 2010, members of the Gupta family offered her the position of public enterprises minister on condition that she ensured the cancellation of South African Airways’ India route.
Mentor claimed the meeting took place at the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound, and that Zuma was in the next room when the discussion took place.
Mentor made these allegations in 2016 after former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas made a public statement revealing that the Guptas offered to promote him to finance minister and offered him a R600m bribe.
In evidence given to former public protector Thuli Madonsela during her State of Capture inquiry, Mentor said the meeting with the Guptas was arranged by a staffer in the presidency. Madonsela’s report does not mention the name of the staffer.
Neither in an affidavit to the North Gauteng High Court in 2016 did Mentor identify who called her. The affidavit was filed at the time to oppose Zuma’s bid to prevent the release of Madonsela’s investigation report.
Mentor told Madonsela that she was met at OR Tambo International Airport by two unknown men who drove her first to Sahara Computers and then the Gupta family home in Saxonwold.
Mentor said she declined the offer of the cabinet post. According to Madonsela’s report, Zuma then walked into the room.
“She stated: ‘The president was not angry that she declined the offer. He apparently said to her in Zulu, something like ‘it’s okay Ntombazane (girl) ... take care of yourself’.”In 2017, the Sunday Times reported how the Gupta family tried to do several business deals with Kaunda. At the time Kaunda admitted that she had several meetings with Tony Gupta at their Saxonwold residence, but she was “not engaged in any business relationship with the Gupta family”.
“I am not captured,” Kaunda said at the time.
A number of legal teams presented themselves before the inquiry on Monday, representing those implicated in statements so far. They include teams for the Guptas, Zuma, his son Duduzane, former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown and businessman Fana Hlongwane.
Advocate Michael Hellens SC, representing Ajay Gupta, told Zondo that he has instructions to act on the allegations made by Mentor and former government spokesman Themba Maseko. This means he is likely to cross-examine Mentor on her claims.
Zuma’s legal team, headed by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, is also likely to cross-examine Mentor, but informed the judge that they were still waiting for all the documentation on the allegations pertaining to their client.
It is not yet clear if Kaunda’s legal team will also request an opportunity to cross-examine Mentor, or depose an affidavit disputing her claims.