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#StateCapture: 5 discrepancies from Vytjie Mentor’s testimony

The former ANC MP has returned to the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture to face cross-examination on her testimony.

A screengrab of Vytjie Mentor appearing at the Zondo Commission on 11 February 2019.

JOHANNESBURG - Former African National Congress MP Vytjie Mentor on Monday took to the stand at the Zondo commission where she is the first witness to be cross-examined following her testimony last year.

Mentor’s evidence in connection with a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) trip to Beijing, China, where she allegedly met Atul Gupta - as well as her description of the Gupta family’s controversial compound in Saxonwold - were cast into doubt by the commission’s evidence leader Advocate Mahlape Sello.

With her credibility now in the spotlight this week, the former MP defended her testimony and said she took exception to her credibility being attacked.

“My credibility has been attacked during the process the lawyer for the Gupta family was making a presentation to [the commission]. It has been attacked in relation to the in loco inspection visit [to Saxonwold]. I take exception to that and I have not had an opportunity, either myself or my legal team, to defend my credibility as it has been attacked,” Mentor told the commission.

Here are the five discrepancies from Vytjie Mentor’s testimony as revealed during her first day of cross-examination:

MEETING FANA HLONGWANE

Mentor may have retracted her statement to the commission implicating businessman Fana Hlongwane in an alleged attempt to coerce her to accept a Cabinet post from the Guptas, but this came back to bite her during the first day of cross-examination.

In August 2018, she told the Zondo commission that former President Jacob Zuma's son, Duduzane, in 2010 introduced her to a man he referred to as “chairman” during an Emirates flight to Dubai.

Mentor previously testified that she had identified this man as Hlongwane. However, through a letter from her lawyers to the commission in November 2018, she conceded that after seeing pictures of Hlongwane on the internet she had identified the wrong man.

What the commission found:

According to flight records the Zondo commission obtained from Emirates Airline, Hlongwane was indeed not present during the flight to China on Emirates via Dubai in August 2010.

The only people who were present during the flight were identified as Ajay Gupta - the oldest Gupta brother - Rajesh Gupta, Duduzane, and Mentor herself.

ATUL GUPTA’S ‘STATE TRIP’

Mentor testified before the commission that she had first met Atul Gupta - the middle of the three Gupta brothers - in China during the government trip aforementioned, and later at the family’s Saxonwold home in Johannesburg, where the alleged offer of the ministerial post was made in 2010 to head up the Department of Public Enterprises.

What the commission found:

Travel documents obtained from the Department of Home Affairs and DTI showed that between 22 and 26 August 2010, Atul was in South Africa during the period of the said state visit to China.

The commission also found that Atul could have not been on government’s list of visitors to China as Mentor had previously told the Zondo commission.

In her defence, she raised questions about the possibility of Atul having four passports, which she claimed might have resulted in his travels being undetected.

HONG KONG TRANSIT

Mentor was also taken to task over her testimony to the commission last year that she had left China earlier than planned and had flown via Hong Kong to South Africa.

On Monday, she admitted before the Zondo commission that she didn’t return via Hong Kong.

“Insofar as Hong Kong is concerned, I had flown to China and might have made a mistake about returning via Hong Kong. I might have confused that with another trip, that I will concede,” she said.

SAA FLIGHT RECORDS

The commission heard from Mentor's testimony that she had travelled sometime between September and October 2010 on a Monday from Cape Town to Johannesburg aboard a South African Airways (SAA) flight to meet with former President Jacob Zuma and the Gupta brothers at the request of the then president.

She testified that when she arrived in Johannesburg she was first taken to the Gupta's Sahara Computers offices in Midrand and then to their Saxonwold home where the offer to take up the Cabinet post was presented to her by one of the Gupta brothers while Zuma was apparently in another room at the time.

This she alleged was on condition that she would terminate SAA’s Johannesburg to Mumbai route, but she refused the offer.

What the commission found:

Investigators from the Zondo commission couldn’t find SAA flight records that proved that Mentor had indeed travelled with the airline on the Monday in question.

Although, Parliament’s own internal travel records showed that on 15 October 2010 (a Friday) Mentor had travelled from Cape Town to Johannesburg via SAA.

“We cannot find a record of a flight on SAA you took from Cape Town to Johannesburg and back to Cape Town,” the commission's evidence leader said.

Mentor has suggested there might be some inconsistencies in the travel information and she remains adamant that she flew to Joburg on a Monday morning via SAA to meet Zuma at his request.

She told the commission: “I say that I have a problem with these records, and I maintain that I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg on a particular Monday, and returned on that same Monday back to Cape Town. And that during that visit, I was taken to Sahara and to Saxonwold where I met the president. I stand by that.”

The Zondo commission said witnesses from SAA and Parliament would be invited to testify on the travel records provided.

GUPTA PROPERTY DETAILS

The former ANC MP - who chaired Parliament's portfolio committee on state-owned enterprises - previously described in detail to the commission the features of the Gupta home from her visit in 2010.

To test the veracity of the details of the property as described by Mentor, which included the stairs and tiling she saw on her visit, the Zondo commission conducted an in loco inspection of the Saxonwold compound late last year.

The inspection was conducted after Ajay claimed that Mentor’s description of their home to the commission was incorrect.

What the commission found:

The commission’s experts, which included a structural engineer and an architect, during the in loco inspection on 3 December 2018, found that none of the five features Mentor identified at the property aligned with her evidence.

Mentor conceded that some features of the home she had described to the commission didn't exist.

She has requested that building experts should test the different features she claims have changed, but the commission said a forensic examination of the property would cost in excess of R800,000.

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