Terence Nombembe. FILE PHOTO: Werner Beukes/SAPA

DURBAN - The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations of State Capture has dismissed a claim by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) to have the inquiry’s head of investigations, Terence Nombembe, removed because he is comprised.

The commission head, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said in a written decision released on Thursday that there was “no proper basis for the EFF’s objection to Mr Nombembe’s appointment and the objection is dismissed”.

On 8 March, EFF leader Julius Malema, reading from a prepared statement, told a press conference the party  “had an intention to call Nombembe to the commission”.  

The statement said Nombembe, who is CEO of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA), had allowed the organisation to accept a donation of R1.2 million from Trillian Capital in 2017. 

Trillian Capital has been linked to the infamous Gupta family who will likely play a central role in the inquiry, including their relationship with former president Jacob Zuma.

“By the time SAICA received the donation, it was…public knowledge that Trillian Capital was used as a corruption vehicle by the Gupta criminal syndicate,” said Malema at the time. Malema accused Nombembe of being conflicted.

It would later transpire that the money was donated to SAICA’s education fund, known as the Thuthuka Bursary Fund, on February 2017 but returned to Trillian in July 2017.

The State Capture Inquiry, formally known as the “Judicial Commission of Inquiry into allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State”, was given the green light on 9 January by then president Zuma. The terms of reference were made public on 25 January.

On 7 March, Zondo appointed his team, including Nombembe, as head of investigations.  He is also the former Auditor-General of South Africa.

In Zondo’s detailed decision on Nombembe, he said he received an official complaint from the EFF on 9 March 2018. He said he gave the EFF, SAICA and Nombembe the opportunity to present information and representations, which were duly circulated between them to allow the parties to respond further. 

Zondo said on the facts presented before him he could see “no basis upon which Mr Nombembe can be criticized”.

Nombembe’s evidence, he said, showed he was involved in the process of returning the money shortly after he became aware of Trillian’s dodgy public profile and alleged irregular business dealings.

“He should be commended for having been part of the decision. I cannot see why they would have based their objection to his appointment on this allegation…if they knew that not only was the donation rejected and returned but that Mr Nombembe was part of the decision to reject the donation. There is no proper basis for the objection.”

He said the EFF had stated that they pursued this line of argument in view of the “numerous scandalous relationships of SAICA members” accused of playing a part in the “Gupta-linked companies and Gupta-linked SEO transactions”, making reference to audit firms KPMG and Sizwe Ntaluba Gobodo Accountants, who they intended to request the commission to subpoena to the inquiry.   

Zondo said there was no evidence presented by the EFF that Nombembe or SAICA were aware of “improper conduct by any of its members but [had] failed to act”.

Zondo said while Nombembe had held the position of CEO at SAICA and was now head of investigations for the commission, this did “not provide a conflict of interest – actual or perceived”.

African News Agency/ANA