Johannesburg - Moegsien Williams, a former editor for the Gupta family's now-defunct newspaper, The New Age, has denied wrongdoing in the run-up to the establishment of the ANN7 news channel back in 2013.
State capture commission evidence leader Thandi Norman said Williams submitted an affidavit to the commission on Monday in which he stated that he would not testify or apply to cross-examine former ANN7 consulting editor Rajesh Sundaram, who testified for two days at the commission and implicated him along with former president Jacob Zuma and the Gupta brothers.
"The legal team took a view that because he does not wish to testify or cross-examine Mr Sundaram, then Mr Sundaram should be given an opportunity to respond to his affidavit.
"He [Williams] simply says he is putting all these before the commission... but he denies most of Mr Sundaram's evidence. He only agreed to a meeting of 2 June 2013 when the former president was present, but disputes that matters that related to editorial policy were discussed," Norman said.
Williams, whom Sundaram alleged was part of meetings between the Guptas and Zuma in planning the establishment of ANN7, said he did nothing wrong.
"I do not wish to give evidence before the commission for the following reasons - I have not done anything improper or committed a crime, I have most certainly never committed an act of corruption and fraud or participated in any of these offences in anyway whatsoever.
"I am not in possession of any evidence that may assist this commission in making any conclusive findings as far the commission's terms of reference are concerned," read Williams' affidavit.
He further denied that security was lax when the Guptas and ANN7 editorial team went to Zuma's residence in Pretoria for a meeting with the embattled former president. Williams said he also served as editor-in-chief of ANN7.
Sundaram said Williams' affidavit was a "bunch of half truths and lies" and that he stood by his own evidence he gave at the commission.
"The meetings that he is disputing can be verified by investigators in terms of the records that can be obtained from Zuma's residence. I gave exact dates of those meetings. Also, meetings that happened on Sundays can be verified on CCTV cameras."
Williams further said it seemed that Sundaram was a disgruntled former employee who could not secure employment after his "brief tenure" at ANN7 and was motivated by an intense dislike for the Guptas, especially Atul Gupta.
"He claimed Sundaram failed in launching ANN7 successfully and was behind the "disastrous launch" of the channel in 2013.
Norman asked Sundaram to respond to Williams' allegations. "Ever since I went back to India, I launched two new television stations and have not been out of employment. I chose to not work immediately after leaving South Africa and wrote the book for a few months," Sundaram said.
"I am an editorial consultant for a publication in the USA called India America Today and also employed as a senior journalist by The Times of India...the evidence in his affidavit is an absolute lie."
He added that the disastrous launch was as a result of Ajay Gupta's "micro managing" of him and not allowing professionals to take independent decisions.
"The technical staff were under tremendous pressure. Atul went into a fit of rage if anyone went against what he wanted...he ignored professional advise. We were almost on a suicide mission because we knew that the launch would be a failure...but we couldn't abandon it along the way.
"Had the hardworking South African journalists never put in the hard work, it [the launch] wouldn't have happened. I was working with hands tied at the back and micro managed by Gupta brothers, especially Atul."
As an editorial manager, Williams didn't uphold journalistic ethics when he discussed commercial ventures and editorial policies with the president of the country, while Zuma's son was a shareholder in the media company, Sundaram said, adding that the meetings were clear conflict of interests.
African News Agency (ANA)