The Zondo commission on state capture is set to rip the veil of secrecy off thousands of potentially dodgy financial transactions linked to former president Jacob Zuma, his family and his secretive education trust.
The Sunday Times has seen subpoenas relating to at least 20 accounts linked to the Zuma family, including a TV production company that produces an SABC1 soapie, Uzalo . The company belongs to Gugulethu Zuma-Ncube, a daughter of Zuma.
The Sunday Times has learnt that some of SA’s major banks have been subpoenaed, and have supplied bank records dating back to 2016. Most of the banks confirmed having received the request, and said they would comply.
The records could help the commission to follow the money and help uncover the full extent of Zuma’s role in state capture.
The records could also shed light on his financial ties to the Gupta family and the looting of state-owned enterprises, especially Eskom, that took place during Zuma’s two terms as president.
Zuma’s lawyer Eric Mabuza said they were not aware of the commission’s request to the banks.
The latest development comes as relations between deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo and Zuma hit a new low this week.
An exasperated Zondo took the bold step of attempting to force Zuma to testify by issuing a subpoena to appear again at the commission. The dates for his appearance have been set for the middle of next month.
Zuma’s legal team, however, first wants Zondo to recuse himself from the commission on the grounds of the judge’s alleged bias against its client.
Zuma’s only appearance at the commission was in July last year when his lawyers “withdrew” from proceedings.
The threat was reversed following an agreement between Zondo and Zuma’s lawyers to decide on a time-frame in later negotiations, but the talks yielded nothing else. On that occasion, Zuma’s testimony consisted largely of rambling accusations and claiming that some former ANC comrades were spies.
This week, Zondo ran out of patience. As Zuma fights to avoid reappearing before Zondo, the Sunday Times further understands that the commission’s investigators have spent the past few months scrutinising Zuma’s banking transactions, as well as the accounts of the Jacob Zuma RDP Education Trust.
According to records the Sunday Times obtained, the subpoenas to the banks were issued as part of an investigation of whether money flowing in and out of those accounts was from financial crimes.
In the subpoenas, commission investigators tell the banks: “You are required to provide the following information: the signatory/signatories to the account, including details of individuals with internet access to the account, bank statements [from] 01 January 2016 to date, including details of counterparties to all transactions into and out of the account.
“A full record of all forex transactions facilitated by the bank in relation to the entity below [Zuma RDP Education Trust]. All documents relating to any internal investigations including and/or to the Financial Intelligence Centre [FIC] based on risks identified.”
The subpoenas to the banks were issued in January and the Sunday Times understands these have now been complied with.
Zuma’s lawyers will present a full application to Zondo this week for the judge’s recusal, insisting that Zondo is biased against their client. If that application fails, the lawyers said they would apply to the courts for the judge’s removal.
“When the chairperson provides reasons of our application for recusal, wewill look at his reasons, and if we are not convinced we will go all the way,” said one of Zuma’s
lawyers, who declined to be named.
“But if the proceedings [on Friday] are anything to go by, he reinforced our concerns about him. He might as well have argued the application himself because he was such a participant. Instead of taking a back seat, he was assisting [commission evidence leader Paul] Pretorius.”
It is unclear what precisely the commission is investigating, but the Sunday Times was informed by a source familiar with the investigation that there have been a number of questionable transactions involving the accounts dating from 2016 to now.
The records that have been requested from the banks relate to Zuma and are from last year, and from as early as January 2019.
Also among the bank accounts being sought are those of Dudu Zuma-Sambudla, who is Duduzane Zuma’s twin sister and the daughter of Zuma and the late Kate Mantsho.
TV producer Zuma-Ncube and Thuthukile Zuma are the youngest of Zuma’s four daughters, whose mother is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Thuthukile was recently nominated for a position in the National Youth Development Agency. The daughters did not respond to written questions.
Zuma has been playing hide-and-seek with the commission for a year.
One of his lawyers, who declined to be named, told the Sunday Times: “We are of the impression that the chairperson [Zondo] is biased against the former president so there is no point in appearing before someone we perceive to be biased. The only reason we are making the application for recusal to the chairperson is because we are compelled by law to do so before we go to court.”
On Friday, Pretorius said it was important for Zuma to answer to evidence from 34witnesses who have implicated him.
In February the commission heard how state funds for a housing project were channelled to the JG Zuma Foundation. The project was run by Thalente Myeni, son of the foundation’s chair, Dudu Myeni.
On Friday, Zondo granted an application forcing Zuma to appear before the commission. The judge said he would have failed in his duty if he did not hear a version of events to fully understand what happened when Zuma was president.
Zuma has failed to appear before the commission four times. In October last year, Zuma’s appearance date coincided with his corruption trial. He was then set to appear the following month but claimed to be ill. He was due to appear in January, but again said he was ill and en route to Cuba for medical treatment. His last unhonoured appearance was last month, when he declined to appear, saying he was busy preparing for his corruption trial and that, because of his age and the associated risks of Covid-19, he could not travel from Nkandla to Johannesburg. This was despite the commission saying he could testify via a video link.
Zondo put his foot down on Friday. “Having read the affidavits placed before me and having listened to submissions made by the counsel representing the commission’s legal team, I am satisfied … that a proper case has been made out for an order authorising that the secretary of the commission to sign and issue a summons against Mr Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma … to appear before the commission at 10am from the 16th to the 20th of November 2020 in this venue.”
Mabuza said Zuma’s legal team would make its argument in the full application for Zondo’s recusal this week.
The Sunday Times understands that Zuma’s lawyers will also raise issues about Zondo’s summarisation of the evidence of witnesses appearing at the commission and implicating their client, saying that the judge accepts the witnesses’ testimonies without getting Zuma’s side.
Some major banks said they are co-operating with the commission because it is a constitutional body.
“As a rule, we co-operate with law enforcement authorities and comply with subpoenas when required. We are, however, not in a position to comment on your specific query. Client confidentiality obligations prevent us from confirming the identity of our clients or commenting on them, whether previous, current or prospective clients,” said Absa media relations head Phumza Macanda.
Capitec spokesperson Charl Nel said the bank was complying with the request.
Standard Bank spokesperson Ross Linstrom said: “Standard Bank cannot comment. Please refer queries to the commissions. Standard Bank will comply with any legal requests to participate, assist or supply information in order to meet its legal obligations.”
FNB said it was unable to confirm whether it received subpoenas in respect of specific persons from the Zondo commission. However, the bank said that it was cooperating with the commission.
Zuma’s refusal to co-operate with the commission has a precedent in the refusal by former state president PW Botha, who consistently refused to testify before the Truth & Reconciliation Commission in 1998. Botha was fined and given a suspended sentence. This was overturned when the subpoena was ruled to be technically invalid.