Ben Martins File picture: Leon Nicholas/Independent Media

JOHANNESBURG - Former Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) chief executive, Lucky Montana has disputed Public Enterprises Deputy Minister Ben Martins’ version of events about a meeting with Tony Gupta at Martins’ official residence in Pretoria. 

Martins yesterday sought to free himself from damning allegations about his association with the Gupta family. But in his efforts to untangle himself, Martins may have opened himself to scrutiny because Montana contradicted him. 

Answering questions about his closeness to the Gupta family at a press conference yesterday, Martins gave details of his encounters with the Guptas. In 2013, he attended an Indian food fair held at the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound. He said he attended the food fair in his personal capacity. 

The event, he said, was open to the public. 

He said he also met one of the Gupta brothers, presumably Atul Gupta, because he said he was the “middle brother” shortly after his appointment as Transport Minister. Martins said the meeting took place before one of the breakfast functions the New Age newspaper organised.  

In the third instance, Tony Gupta and former Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) chief executive, Lucky Montana came to his government house in Pretoria because he had learnt that the Gupta family wanted to influence leadership changes at Prasa. 

But Montana quickly disputed this. In a statement, yesterday said he did not know nor had met any Gupta until he was invited by Martins to his Tshwane residence. “It is rather unfortunate that I am presented to have brought with me Rajesh Gupta, whom I have never met before. He came with Duduzane Zuma to the meeting, clearly at the invitation of my leader, comrade and friend, Ben Martins. I did not even know that these two were coming to join us,” said Montana. Martins had not mentioned Duduzane Zuma’s presence in the meeting. 

Martins had called the press conference to respond to allegations suspended Eskom head of legal and compliance Suzanne Daniels who alleged that Martins was part of a meeting that was also attended by Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma and Gupta associate Salim Essa. 

According to Daniels, Ajay Gupta sought to manipulate the court dates of the case relating to former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe’s controversial pension payout. Molefe’s case is set to commence on November 29 in the North Gauteng High Court. 

Martins said Daniels’ allegations “perplexed” him. He denied that he attended the meeting with Daniels, Gupta, Essa and Zuma. “The truth is that I met Ms Daniels several times in her capacity as Eskom Company Secretary, together with the then Chairperson of Eskom Dr Ben Ngubane, Department of Public Enterprises Director-General Richard Seleke and Minister Lynne Brown in Cape Town and Tshwane to discuss the Brian Molefe matter,” said Martins. 

He said he could not recall where he was on July 29, the day of the Melrose Arch meeting, according to Daniels. He said he would check his diary.  

He admitted to admonishing her for governance lapses that had taken place under her watch as Company Secretary and Legal Advisor at Eskom. “My collegial constructive criticism was never meant as a personal attack,” he said. 

Meanwhile, Daniels, yesterday said she stood by her statement. “By virtue of being a lawyer, I am an officer of the court and to top it up, I also took an oath in parliament ahead of proffering my evidence. I, therefore, would not have lied to parliament and risk various applicable consequences. I stand by my testimony," said Daniels.

-BUSINESS REPORT