2017-02-26 06:10

Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas

Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas

After unsuccessfully pursuing Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, the Hawks have now set their sights on his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas.

City Press has established that the Hawks’ Crimes Against the State (Cats) unit is gathering evidence that could implicate Jonas in a case of corruption involving a supplier to SAA’s aviation maintenance division, SAA Technical (Saat).

The case is being investigated by Cats unit head Brigadier Nyameka Xaba, who also investigated the case against Gordhan and his former SA Revenue Service (Sars) colleagues, Ivan Pillay and Johan van Loggerenberg.

Three months ago, the Hawks submitted their docket containing the case of fraud, defeating the ends of justice and contravening the Provision of Communication-Related Information Act against Gordhan, related to the so-called Project Sunday Evenings, to National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams for a decision on whether he should be prosecuted.

Abrahams is yet to announce a decision.

The Hawks’ investigation into Jonas and others, who, it is alleged, include several Saat board members, began late last year.

City Press has learnt from four highly placed sources – three within the Hawks and one within SAA – that, as part of their probe into the airline, the Hawks are investigating Jonas for allegedly introducing US aircraft maintenance and engineering company AAR Corp to one of Saat’s board members, requesting that he “look after them”.

The complaint, which City Press has seen, was laid by an unnamed Saat board member.

It contains the allegation that Jonas used his political influence as deputy finance minister to have the company favourably viewed as a supplier of aircraft components and tyres. This, according to internal Hawks documents, was done despite the company failing to meet the stipulated tender requirements on three occasions.

The Hawks have already interviewed the Saat board member who made the claims. It is not clear when exactly the alleged interference took place.

“Another person of interest in the investigation is SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni, who has already been contacted for her statement,” said a Hawks officer close to the investigation.

“The investigators will be obtaining her statement soon.”

Myeni confirmed this to City Press yesterday.

“I am aware of the allegations against Jonas. I am the one who is always painted as corrupt and I will see what will happen now,” she said.

Myeni confirmed that she would provide the Hawks with a statement and would cooperate with the probe.

The investigation comes amid widespread speculation about a Cabinet reshuffle, sparked by the appointment this week of former Eskom chief executive officer (CEO) Brian Molefe as an ANC MP.

Jonas is widely believed to be a target of the reshuffle.

In her State of Capture report, then public protector Thuli Madonsela revealed how Molefe and Ajay Gupta made 58 phone calls to each other between August 2015 and March 2016, and that Molefe’s cellphone records placed him near or at the Guptas’ sprawling compound in Saxonwold in Johannesburg.

This was in the lead-up to the family’s acquisition of the Optimum coal mine, bought with a R600m pre-payment which Eskom approved. Molefe resigned from Eskom shortly after the report’s release.

In the same report, Jonas revealed that the Guptas offered him the job of finance minister and a R600m bribe to work with them. The Guptas denied the allegations.

Treasury spokesperson Yolisa Tyantsi declined to comment on questions sent on Friday afternoon. Jonas could not be reached. Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi refused to confirm or deny that Jonas was among their targets, but said the investigation was ongoing.

“For the record, the investigation was referred to us after a source blew the lid off serious corrupt activities at SAA. We intend to dig deep to uncover the truth based on the information that was referred to us,” Mulaudzi said.

“The probe involves billions of rands of state funds, and serious allegations have been levelled against senior government officials, the Saat and SAA boards, and businesses.”

Mulaudzi declined to reveal details, saying that doing so would jeopardise the investigation.

“We will also not reveal the names of the officials or businesses, or their accomplices, until we bring those linked to alleged corruption to court.

“We still have a lot of documentation to go through and to take statements from all those alleged to have played a role directly or indirectly.

“We are committed to bringing to finality the alleged abuse of state funds and collusion without fear, favour or prejudice using the rule of law at SAA,” he said.

On Friday, a spokesperson for AAR Corp denied the allegations, saying: “We have earned the trust of some of the world’s largest airlines, including carriers in Kenya and Ethiopia. As always, AAR conducts its business with the highest ethical and legal standards.”

However, from the documents City Press has seen, there so far appears to be little evidence implicating Jonas.

The case relates to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed by AAR Corp CEO David Storch and Saat’s then CEO, Musa Zwane, in June 2015. Zwane is now the acting CEO of SAA.

According to an announcement at the time, the two parties signed the agreement to establish a joint venture to “reduce costs and increase operational efficiencies of the airline’s fleet”.

Documents before the Hawks allege the joint venture was an “effective noncompetitive method of bypassing the tender which AAR had failed to qualify for on two previous occasions”.

It goes on to state: “The MOU was a mechanism that resulted in the cancellation of the competitive and quantifiable tender process. The Saat board did, in fact, immediately after the signing of the MOU, cancel the tender process.

“Anonymous allegations were made that the unsolicited bid was motivated by a senior government official. This needs to be investigated.”

This senior official, said two senior Hawks officers, was alleged to be Jonas. At the time, SAA fell under the authority of Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown.

Six months after the MOU was signed, SAA was transferred to Treasury after Cabinet became concerned about the performance of state-owned companies, including the national airline, the SA Post Office and Eskom.

Although it is a subsidiary of SAA, Saat has its own board.

The Hawks’ Xaba and his Cats team made headlines last year when they sent 27 questions to Gordhan a few days before he was due to deliver his 2016 budget speech.

The fraud charges against Gordhan were withdrawn by Abrahams late last year before he could even appear in court.

The same unit is also investigating Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema for inciting violence; Independent Police Investigative Directorate head Robert McBride, former Hawks boss Anwa Dramat and his Gauteng counterpart, Shadrack Sibiya, in connection with the illegal rendition of five Zimbabweans; and forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan on a string of charges.

Xaba and his unit were also implicated in the alleged kidnapping of Sars executive Vlok Symington, who revealed legal advice exonerating Gordhan of any wrongdoing in the granting of early retirement to Pillay, his former deputy.