By Estelle Ellis

A senior Absa bank official changed DM99 000 in cash for the Democratic Alliance, using his own passport and bank account, before transferring most of the money, in rands, to the DA's account, the Desai Commission heard on Wednesday.

Eric Marais, a regional manager for group corporate and public affairs, was suspended from Absa after allegations earlier this year that Jurgen Harksen gave money to the DA.

He admitted he was a DA member and told Mr Justice Siraj Desai that he had handed all paperwork relating to the exchange transactions and the remainder of the money to the Scorpions. "I am co-operating with the Scorpions in their investigation," he said.

The Scorpions are investigating prominent politicians in the Western Cape in connection with fraud, corruption and money-laundering - all part of a probe into the affairs of Harksen.

The Desai Commission was set up by premier Peter Marais to investigate allegations of bugging of the provincial legislature building, possible irregularities in the management of information and documents by the provincial government, and to look into donations to the former premier of the province or anyone connected to his office by Harksen.

Harksen has testified twice before the commission. He has admitted to giving the DA at least two donations totalling more than R500 000. His testimony also included references to his handing foreign currency in cash either to Gerald Morkel, then premier, or his minister of finance, Leon Markovitz.

Marais said he knew Gerald Morkel well from Absa's dealings with several levels of government. In the middle of July or August last year Morkel had phoned him.

He said the DA had received DM99 000 and that he would be contacted by Werner Schwella, the former secretary of the DA.

After Schwella's call, Marais went to the DA office in Burg Street, where Schwella handed him DM99 000 in cash.

"He asked me to pay it into the DA's account. The understanding was that at least one payment had to be made before December."

Marais said he then started exchanging the foreign currency for rands, using his own passport at various Absa branches, outlets of Rennies Travel and while on holiday in Amsterdam.

While he was exchanging various sums, he kept the rest of the cash at his house.

"Political parties are very sensitive about their donors. I handled it confidentially."

Marais said that as he was exchanging the money, it was paid into his own account and later transferred into the DA's account.

The last amount paid over in this way was in January or February.

"I received no specific orders from the DA about what to do with the money."

He said that in April there had been about R90 000 left which had not yet been paid over to the DA, which the Scorpions had attached.

"I asked Schwella who the money came from. He said he did not know. It was my impression that he was speaking the truth."