Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane has found it "implausible" that Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan simply did not recall meeting one of the infamous Gupta brothers in 2010.
In a shocking report released on Friday, Mkhwebane makes several findings against Gordhan in relation to the establishment of an intelligence unit at the South African Revenue Service in 2007, and that he deliberately misled Parliament when he omitted the 2010 meeting from a written response to a question from a DA MP in 2016.
Gordhan in October 2018 told the Zondo Commission on state capture he had been reminded of the meeting by his then chief of staff, Dondo Mogajane.
But Mkhwebane found Gordhan violated the Executive Ethics Code and the Constitution by not disclosing the 2010 meeting in his written reply, saying she found it "rather implausible when one considers the prominence of the subject of state capture in South Africa."
She does not dwell on aspects of the written reply in which Gordhan confirms meeting the Gupta brothers on occasion at social events such as at a cricket match and that he had met one Gupta brother at Mahlamba Ndlopfu, the Presidential guest house.
Gordhan indicated in a statement released on Friday afternoon that he would immediately challenge Mkhwebane's report in court.
Mkhwebane gives President Cyril Ramaphosa 30 days to take "appropriate disciplinary action" against Gordhan. She further recommends that within 14 days the Speaker of the National Assembly Thandi Modise must refer Gordhan's "violation" to the Joint Committee on Ethics and Members' Interests for its consideration.
The 2010 meeting
Gordhan has indicated that he did not recall that a member of the Gupta family was present during a meeting in June 2010 with billionaire businessman Anil Ambani of the Reliance Group.
Gordhan told Zondo he had spoken only with Ambani during the meeting.
"Mr Gordhan conceded to having not disclosed that he had actually met a member of the Gupta family and an associate thereof," Mkhwebane's report reads.
She dismissed his repeated contention that he had forgotten Gupta was present.
"It is apparent that he deliberately misled Parliament in responding to the Parliamentary question on 16 April 2016 in that his response is accordingly misleading to Parliament and does not seem like a bona fide mistake," Mkhwebane found.
Deliberate or inadvertent?
Mkhwebane has had to decide on the issue of whether a minister deliberately misled Parliament on several occasions.
- In October 2018 she found that then small business development minister Lindiwe Zulu had not intentionally misled Parliament when she was asked over the purchase of new vehicles by the department. Zulu had produced evidence showing she had not been aware the department was in the process of purchasing new vehicles at the time of her response.
- Mkhwebane was asked to probe whether former State Security Minister David Mahlobo misled Parliament in November 2016 when he claimed in response to an oral question that he did not know Fees Must Fall activist Mcebo Dlamini. Days prior to this, he had claimed he knew Dlamini and that Dlamini often visited his home during a panel discussion hosted by the Institute of Security Studies. Mahlobo was cleared by Mkhwebane due to an interpretation of the question, which related specifically to whether Dlamini had visited Mahlobo to discuss the student protests. Mahlobo had denied this specifically but did not deny knowing Dlamini or that he visited his home. Mkhwebane closed the investigation in November 2017.
-In February 2018, Mkhwebane found that controversial former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown had inadvertently misled Parliament when she stated that Gupta-linked Trillian Capital Partners did not have contracts with Eskom. Mkhwebane found there was no evidence to support a finding that Brown had deliberately misled Parliament, and gave the president 60 days to take disciplinary action against her.