Ex-South African Leader Zuma Directly Implicated in Graft Probe

(Bloomberg) -- Former South African President Jacob Zuma was directly implicated in helping his allies loot state funds by a witness appearing before a judicial commission of inquiry that’s probing the alleged graft.

Themba Maseko, the former head of the government communication service, told the panel that Zuma phoned him in 2010 and told him to assist the Gupta family, who were starting a media company, as he was on his way to speak with one of them. At the meeting, Ajay Gupta demanded that Maseko’s office allocate the state’s 600 million rand ($41 million) advertising budget to the family’s newspaper and television channel, he said.

Ex-South African Leader Zuma Directly Implicated in Graft Probe

“He was basically issuing an instruction which I found to be unacceptable and unlawful,” Maseko told the inquiry in Johannesburg on Thursday. Gupta told him he met regularly with Zuma and would ensure government ministers followed his instructions to hand over their advertising funds, Maseko said.

Maseko said he told Gupta “that’s not how things work,” and that the businessman became extremely angry when he ended the meeting. Maseko was fired from his post in 2011 -- a decision he said Zuma ordered.

Murder Threat

The judicial commission, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, previously heard testimony from former Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas that the Gupta brothers offered him 600 million rand to take the finance minister’s post and threatened to kill him if he spoke of the proposition.

The commission doesn’t have the power to prosecute anyone but can recommend that law enforcement agencies take action against those implicated in wrongdoing. It expects to take two years to complete its work.

Maseko’s allegations were previously reported by Johannesburg-based Sunday Times newspaper in 2016, and were among a slew of accusations about how the Guptas used their close ties to Zuma to influence cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts. Thuli Madonsela, the nation’s former anti-graft ombudsman, ordered the judicial probe be set up after her own investigation suggested their was substance to the allegations.

Former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has estimated that more than 100 billion rand may have been plundered during Zuma’s almost nine-year tenure in a process known as “state capture.” Zuma, who was forced to step down in February by the ruling party, and the Guptas, who have left the country, have denied wrongdoing.

Maseko said he had reported what happened to then-Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Frank Chikane, the former director-general in the presidency, and Essop Pahad, an ex-minister in the presidency.

“The response from all the people I spoke to shared the concern about the role of the Gupta family,” he said.

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