Former President Jacob Zuma congratulates then-Finance Minister David van Rooyen after his swearing-in ceremony in Pretoria. File Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS via EPA
Former President Jacob Zuma congratulates then-Finance Minister David van Rooyen after his swearing-in ceremony in Pretoria. File Picture: Elmond Jiyane/GCIS via EPA

Van Rooyen admits meetings with Tony Gupta, defends appointment of Gupta-linked advisors

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Aug 11, 2020

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Johannesburg - Des van Rooyen has moved to explain his meetings with Rajesh "Tony" Gupta which took place before he was appointed in December 2015 as the minister of finance.

Van Rooyen took the stand at the inquiry on Tuesday.

He faced questions surrounding his appointment and swearing-in as the minister of finance on December 10, 2015.

Van Rooyen's controversial appointment saw him tasked with replacing Nhlanhla Nene as minister.

In her report titled "State of Capture" Public Protector Thuli Madonsela noted that van Rooyen's cellphone records had placed him at the vicinity of the Gupta compound in Saxonworld on numerous occasions.

Van Rooyen said the report was unfair on him in his opening address at the inquiry.

He explained that he had met with Rajesh Gupta on various occasions following his appointment as the treasurer-general of the ANC MKMVA in October 2015.

Van Rooyen said he believed that Gupta was interested in introducing himself as a businessman who did business with the ANC.

He also explained that the Guptas had donated over R1m towards the MKMVA's golf day events in 2016 and 2017.

The former minister had also met with Gupta before he was appointed as the minister of finance in December 2015.

On his appointment and his decision to appoint two advisors, Mohamed Bobat and Ian Whitely, who have been linked to the Gupta family, Van Rooyen admitted that he knew very little about them when he decided to appoint them.

Van Rooyen had appointed Bobat without even investigating his CV, a point which concerned Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

Van Rooyen had followed a similar move when he decided to appoint Whitely, a man he never knew but met once in a meeting at Melrose Arch in December 2015 - days before he was appointed.

Zondo said van Rooyen's reasons for appointing people he had not done proper background checks on was concerning.

"I am concerned that a minster would appoint someone without the background needed. The speed you went about it is of concern.

“I would have thought someone who would be an advisor to the minister would be someone who has proper background checks made.

“With regards to both of them, with Mr Whitely is someone you do not know and with Mr Bobat it was someone you knew slightly and you offered them jobs. It seems to me as not something you would expect a minister to do," Zondo said.

Van Rooyen defended his decision making at the time saying he was under pressure to "hit the ground running" and the financial markets were shaky following Nene's removal.

He said the men would have been double-checked for clearance at a later stage.

"The process was not complete. What impressed me was what was in their CVs," van Rooyen said.

“What drove me was the merit I saw in their profiles and their CVs. I believed in the process that was going to follow to finalise that process," he said.

Zondo also questioned van Rooyen on the process used to appoint ministers.

He asked the former minister how Enoch Godongwana, an ANC NEC member, knew that he would bring two advisors he does not know anything about.

Godongwana had hinted to former National Treasury DG Lungisa Fuzile that a "Gupta minister" would be appointed who would bring two advisors.

The Zondo's questions were based on van Rooyen insisting that no one else knew about his decision to appoint Whitely and Bobat.

"I looked into Mr Godongwana's affidavit because I was expecting to know something I did not know. He is speaking of the meetings of the NEC and a possible reshuffle. As to how he knew this I do not know."

"The reality is that all these things, appointment and dismissals, are procedurally guided processes. The president is the only person empowered to appoint ministers, there is no way there can be a deviation from that," van Rooyen insisted.

Van Rooyen has concluded his evidence at the inquiry.

Political Bureau

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