A devastating new report by a South African watchdog has found sweeping evidence of corruption and cronyism at the highest levels of President Jacob Zuma’s government.
Among the most shocking revelations in the report is a cabinet minister’s testimony that the Gupta business family tried to give him 600,000 rand (about $60,000 Canadian) in cash in a bag.
It also found that the Guptas made huge profits in deals with state agencies. And it found a tight web of connections between the Guptas and top state officials, including frequent meetings at the family’s lavish Johannesburg mansion.
The investigation, including evidence from cellphone records and explosive testimony by cabinet ministers, will ratchet up the pressure on Mr. Zuma to resign. But while many senior members of his ruling party are now calling on him to step down, there are signs that he will continue to use legal delaying tactics to stave off the corruption allegations and to cling to office as long as possible.
The 355-page report by South Africa’s public protector – an ombudsman with constitutional powers – was released by court order on Wednesday after Mr. Zuma abandoned a last-ditch effort to block its release.
The report calls for a full judicial inquiry, to report within six months, to probe the evidence of corruption. It cites a long list of possible crimes by Mr. Zuma and senior state officials, including Mr. Zuma’s failure to take any action on strong evidence of corruption in his government.
A prominent South African law expert, Pierre de Vos, said the latest evidence of high-level corruption is undoubtedly the biggest scandal in South Africa in the 22 years since the end of apartheid.
In a brief statement after the report was released, Mr. Zuma’s office said the President was studying the report and might launch a court challenge against it.
It was the final report by public protector Thuli Madonsela, whose seven-year term ended last month. She says her investigation was partly inspired by the former Ontario ombudsman, André Marin, who trained her staff in advanced investigative techniques, which he calls the “sharpen your teeth” method.
In a meeting with Mr. Zuma last month, in which she tried to persuade the President to answer a host of questions about the corruption allegations, Ms. Madonsela told Mr. Zuma that she was willing to meet witnesses “anywhere, anytime” to hear their evidence – a technique that she described as “the Canadian approach.”
The long-anticipated report was provoked by widespread reports of “state capture” by the powerful and wealthy Gupta brothers. A cabinet minister and a former cabinet minister have both described how the Guptas offered them a cabinet promotion if they co-operated with the family by providing lucrative business deals.
Mr. Zuma, whose presidential term expires in 2019, has shown no inclination to step down. But the pressure on him is growing. This week, the Nelson Mandela Foundation joined the chorus of voices demanding his resignation. The democracy foundation, established by South Africa’s greatest liberation hero, had never previously taken a stance on Mr. Zuma.
A host of veteran members of the ruling African National Congress, including former cabinet ministers and comrades of Mr. Mandela, rallied at a church in Pretoria on Wednesday to demand the President’s resignation to “save South Africa.” Among those at the rally were Paul Mashatile, the leader of the ANC in the country’s most populous province, Gauteng.
The ANC’s chief parliamentary whip, Jackson Mthembu, has also made a dramatic call for Mr. Zuma to resign.
The corruption report released on Wednesday used cellphone records to show that key state officials, including the head of South Africa’s electricity monopoly, were frequent visitors to the Gupta mansion and had made dozens of phone calls to the Guptas in the space of a few months.
For “unclear” reasons, the electricity agency allowed the Guptas to make a profit of $150-million (U.S.) from the sale of a coal terminal, even though the terminal had earlier been deemed “vital” to a South African coal mine, the report said.
It noted that a cabinet minister with close links to the Guptas had travelled to Switzerland to help the Guptas acquire the coal mine and terminal. The minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, has denied the Switzerland visit, but the report found flight records to prove it.
In another of its many revelations, the report cited testimony from the deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jonas, who said the Guptas offered him $60,000 in cash and a further $60-million bank payment, plus a cabinet promotion, if he dismissed finance officials who were a “stumbling block” to their business ambitions.Report Typo/Error