Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has dismissed the application by Ajay Gupta to cross-examine witnesses at the state capture commission of inquiry.
The Gupta family patriarch is implicated in serious allegations of state capture, corruption and fraud.
Zondo, who chairs the commission, said he would only grant Ajay the permission to cross-examine witnesses if he agreed to return to SA and testify at the inquiry in person.
Ajay wanted to cross-examine former government spokesperson Themba Maseko and ex-ANC MP Vytjie Mentor, who both implicated him in allegations of state capture, to test the “reliability and accuracy” of their evidence.
However, he threw in a caveat: he was not prepared to appear in person before the commission in Johannesburg, but was prepared to give his version of events to the commission’s evidence leader in another location outside SA or via a video link from Dubai.
Ajay fears returning to SA as he might be arrested by law enforcement agencies if declared a “fugitive from justice”. He also argued that the inquiry cannot make “objective findings and conclusions” if he isn’t afforded the right to cross-examine witnesses.
But Zondo says that if the commission doesn’t hear Ajay’s version of events, it would be because he turned his back on SA. He added that Ajay doesn’t have any valid reason for not appearing before the commission.
Zondo has also dismissed Rajesh Gupta’s request to cross-examine Mentor and Maseko.
“As long as they [Ajay and Rajesh] are prepared to personally and physically appear before the commission within the borders of SA, their application cannot be granted,” says Zondo.
“Once they are within the boarders of SA and are prepared to appear physically before the commission, I would have absolutely no difficulty in granting them leave to cross-examine [witnesess].”
“For it’s quite clear that at least Mr Ajay Gupta is seriously implicated and it would be fair that he be granted an opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses who implicated him,” says Zondo.
Maseko accused Ajay of pressuring him to channel government’s annual R600 million advertising budget to the now-defunct The New Age newspaper and ANN7 television station, formerly owned by the Gupta family. Meanwhile, Mentor says Ajay offered her the public enterprises minister post in September 2010 at the infamous Gupta compound in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.
Zondo’s ruling is a massive blow for the Gupta brothers, who attempted to set their own conditions to participate in the inquiry and asked for special treatment.
Vincent Maleka, who acts for the commission, recently said Ajay’s reason for cross-examination is to “browbeat” witnesses, which might impact the willingness of future witnesses to give evidence to the commission.
Maleka also believes that there is not a lawful reason for Ajay not wanting to come back to SA. He warned that the commission might face a huge cost burden if its evidence leaders travel to Dubai to meet him there.
Zondo granted former president Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma the right to cross-examine former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas. This was after Dudzane Zuma had a change of heart and agreed to testify at the state capture inquiry.
Jonas says Duduzane Zuma facilitated a meeting between him and Ajay on October 23, 2015 at the Gupta family compound in Saxonwold. At the meeting, he was offered the finance minister job to replace Nhlanhla Nene.