Former DG in office of the Free State premier tells Zondo about meetings with Guptas

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Ajay and Atul Gupta. File photo

The former director-general in the office of the Free State premier and the former MEC for finance in the province, Elizabeth Cornelia Rockman, on Wednesday told the commission of inquiry into state capture about her meetings with the Guptas and their associates.

Evidence leader at the commission, advocate Leah Gcabashe asked Rockman about her meetings with Tony Gupta, also known as Rajesh, from November 2012 to 2014.

Rockman said her interactions with Gupta predated the period of time Gcabashe was interested in, to 2010, when Gupta owned the now defunct The New Age newspaper and made a proposal to the Free State Executive Council (Exco) to secure advertising for the publication.

She said Exco had agreed in principle to support The New Age because the publication would serve a niche market in the province as there was no other English daily newspaper.

Rockman said that between 2010 to 2013 she had engagements with Gupta associates Ashok Narayan and Nazeem Howa.

Rockman said that in August 2011, former Free State premier Ace Magashule called her to inform her that she should meet with representatives from the New Age ahead of an Exco meeting.

Magashule was not part of this meeting, the commission heard.

At the meeting, a proposal was pitched for the Free State provincial government through the office of the premier to subscribe to the newspaper, the commission heard.

“One of the Gupta brothers was present,” Rockman said, however, she said she could not recall which Gupta brother was present at the meeting.

Rockman said what she could recall was that it would have been 4,000 copies per day for a period of three years.

She said the subscription would have a deviation from procurement processes because the contract was for a specific newspaper.

The advantage of subscribing to the newspaper was that the publication undertook to have a page dedicated to news from the province, including newsworthy items from the provincial government, which worked well for the Free State’s layered broader communication strategy, Rockman said.

Rockman said he also came across some of the Gupta brothers during The New Age and SABC’s business breakfast show, which was broadcast in Bloemfontein on May 17, 2012. She added that former president Jacob Zuma attended the said broadcast.

She said she also met some of the Gupta brothers at the ANC Mangaung conference of 2012.

Rockman said he has only had meetings with Rajesh Gupta: “I never had one on meetings with the other brothers”, adding that one such meeting was in April 2013, when she left the office of the premier and was appointed as MEC for finance.

At that meeting, the money the provincial government owed to The New Age and the outstanding amount the provincial government needed to pay to Gupta-linked Estina for implementing the failed Vrede dairy project was discussed.

Watch the proceedings live courtesy of the SABC:

 

Makhosandile Zulu / The Citizen