20 March 2019

South Africa: Mantsha's Appointment As Denel Board Chair Seen As Continuation of 'Takeover' - Saloojee

The judicial commission of inquiry into state capture has heard how the appointment of Daniel Mantsha in 2015 as chairperson of Denel, the state arms manufacturer, was a continuation of a "takeover" of the company.

This was the testimony of former Denel group CEO Riaz Saloojee before inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

Saloojee spent Wednesday dropping bombshell after bombshell about how he believed Denel was a target of state capture.

Saloojee said before the annual general meeting and the announcement of a new board in July 2015, the company's Zwelakhe Ntshepe informed him that Gupta associate Salim Essa wanted to meet with him so he could introduce him to the new chairperson of the board, Mantsha.

Saloojee told the inquiry that he was "perplexed" that Essa wanted to introduce him to the new chairperson of the board, given that Essa had also introduced him to the Guptas in the presence of then minister Malusi Gigaba, Duduzane Zuma, son of former president Jacob Zuma, and Ace Magashule's son.

He also told the commission that he then concluded that Mantsha and Essa had an "understanding".

'Old board supported me 100%'

He said while Mantsha assured him that things at Denel would be done the right way, he was still sceptical.

Saloojee testified that he knew that it was difficult for the Guptas or their business associate Essa to get rid of him while the "old board" was there.

"The old board had supported me a 100%," he said.

Saloojee also detailed how he and his colleagues were suspended over the acquisition of Land Systems SA from BAE Systems.

Saloojee told Zondo that he went away to a defence exhibition in London with then minister of public enterprises Lynne Brown.

He said while they were there, the new audit and risk committee was continuously asking the company secretary Elizabeth Africa for documents on the Land Systems deal.

He said while in London, Mantsha told him that the risk committee was unhappy with the conduct of the company secretary.

It was alleged that she did not give the committee all the documents of the Land system transaction.

Letter of suspension

Immediately after the London trip in September 2015, the three senior executives were called to a meeting with Denel's new audit and risk committee and were accused of serious misconduct relating to the Land System.

Saloojee said he and his colleagues, Africa and chief financial officer Fikile Mhlontlo were all individually called into meetings, presented with the list of allegations and given 24 hours to give reasons why they should not be suspended over the Land Systems transactions.

He said soon after this the committee informed them that it had considered their representations and that it had resolved that they should be offered a three-month package.

Saloojee said he received a letter from Mantsha confirming his suspension.

He claimed Mantsha told him that because he did not offer the committee his representations it had no choice but to suspend him.

"What he was saying was not true?" Zondo asked.

"Yes," Saloojee replied.

'Inexplicable'

He said they were then informed that Denel appointed Dentons law firm to conduct an investigation into the Land system transaction and on their conduct in that transaction.

Saloojee also read out parts of a letter which was signed by Mantsha, addressed to the company's acting secretary at the time.

In the letter, Mantsha asks the secretary to, "further requested to inform Dentons that their report is not accepted and request them to provide us with a report within 30 days and kindly direct them to provide information to support the charges".

"I mean this is inexplicable that the chairman of the board is asking the company secretary to ask Dentons to change the report and that the new report should support the charges against us," Saloojee testified.

"A chairman of the board who is also an officer of the court," evidence leader advocate Leah Gcabashe said.

City Press previously reported that there was speculation that the trio's removal was related to the controversial Denel Asia joint venture.

Mbalula ready to 'amplify the truth'

The hearings are expected to continue on Friday with evidence from the ANC's Fikile Mbalula.

Mbalula has vowed to "amplify the truth" when he testifies before Zondo, News24 previously reported.

"Everything that [former finance minister] Trevor Manuel said regarding head of elections about me is true, and it is now up to me to go to the state capture commission and amplify that truth and put it into context," Mbalula, who is the party's head of elections, said at the time.

Manuel previously testified that Mbalula had an emotional reaction during one of the party's national executive committee (NEC) meetings over an interaction he had with one of the Gupta brothers.

Manuel revealed that at the NEC meeting in August 2011, members had a tense discussion about the influence of the Guptas.

Manuel said Mbalula cried while talking about an engagement he had with one of the Gupta brothers in 2010. It was during this interaction that he was told that he would become minister of sports and recreation.

Source: News24

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