Former group chief executive officer of the state-owned enterprise (SOE) Denel, Riaz Saloojee, on Wednesday told the commission of inquiry into state capture that he met two of the Gupta brothers at the controversial family’s Saxonwold residence where former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba was present.
Salim Essa, a business associate of the Gupta brothers, introduced Saloojee to Tony Rajesh Gupta, Saloojee said, who later introduced him to his brother, Atul Gupta, and Gigaba.
Saloojee told the commission that his testimony on this meeting was significant because “the reason why I am here… is to look at this notion of state capture”.
The former Denel CEO said when he arrived at the SOE in 2012, he was aware of the Guptas and Essa due to media reports.
He said he had met Essa in public places before and he “knew who he was, and he knew who I was”.
In the first quarter of 2012, Saloojee met Essa who extended an invitation to a meeting which would be of interest to Denel and its CEO, he said, adding that Essa indicated that it would be important to attend the meeting “because it had support from the highest level”.
Saloojee said he did not find this odd because at the time he was meeting a number of institutions to discuss potential business.
The evidence leader at the commission on Wednesday, advocate Leah Gcabashe, asked Saloojee to give his interpretation of Essa’s statement that the meeting ” had support from the highest level”.
Saloojee said according to his interpretation, this was at the political level, at the top of the executive, the then president of the country – Jacob Zuma.
Essa picked Saloojee up at a coffee shop and drove him to the Gupta residence in Saxonwold, adding that during the drive he was not aware where he was going or who he was going to meet.
However, during the drive, Essa informed him that it was the Guptas, telling Saloojee not to worry, repeating that the meeting had support from the “highest level”.
At the residence, Saloojee was introduced to Tony Rajesh Gupta inside the house, which was the first time meeting him, he said, adding that he had never met any of the Guptas.
Saloojee said inside the house he engaged in pleasantries with the Gupta brother who then took him to another room where he introduced Saloojee to another Gupta brother – Atul Gupta. Gigaba was present in that room, Saloojee said.
“There was no discussion on Denel… it was just an introduction,” Saloojee said.
Gigaba then told Saloojee that the Guptas were friends and that if there was something that they could do at Denel it would be good, the former CEO said.
Saloojee said the meeting was short, lasting between seven and 10 minutes.
Driving him back to the coffee, Essa told Saloojee not to worry because they “are good people”.
Saloojee said the Gupta brother, as he read it, was trying to show that he had a relationship with Saloojee’s political head – Gigaba.
“My only view of this thing was the display of the influence they had,” Saloojee said.
He said his understanding of Gigaba’s comments had no implicit connotation that he had to do something and there was no instruction to do so.
Another meeting was later arranged, Saloojee said, in which Zuma’s son, Duduzane, and the son of ANC secretary general Ace Magashule’s son was present.
He said he was told that Magashule’s son worked with the Guptas but he did not stay long at the meeting.
Duduzane Zuma kept quiet during the meeting, with Essa taking the lead.
“He [Essa] kept on saying they have the support of number one, the old man,” Saloojee said.
Essa then said they were interested in doing business with Denel and made mention of the Asia markets.
In January 2016, Denel announced that it wanted to partner with Asian-based business VR Laser as a vehicle to penetrate the Asia-Pacific markets which had seen year-on-year increases in spending in excess of 20%, making it one of the top spending regions on defence equipment in the world.
VR Laser Asia is linked to the controversial Gupta family alleged to be at the centre of state capture, which the commission is investigating.
Essa is the sole shareholder of VR Laser Asia.
Salooojee told the commission on Wednesday that at the end of the second meeting Atul Gupta informed him that Essa would be the family’s face with regards to potential business between the family and Denel internationally and locally.
Saloojee’s testimony continues: