Zondo Inquiry: Was FS cabinet misled on failed Vrede farm project funding?

Mosebenzi Zwane told the State Capture Commission that a provincial government exco had given the project the green light, but evidence leader Advocate Pule Seleka wanted to know if it wasn’t misled.

Former Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane takes the oath at the state capture commission on 13 May 2021. Picture: YouTube screengrab/SABC.

JOHANNESBURG – The state capture commission has on Thursday asked former Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane if the Free State cabinet was misled with promises that Estina would contribute R228 million for the Vrede Dairy Farm project.

This was because he allegedly pressurised officials to prepay the company R30 million just three days after signing its agreement.

Zwane said he didn’t know that the local shops of Vrede were never supplied with milk by the Estina Dairy Farm, or that the intended beneficiaries of the project didn’t get anything.

“I think this project was for three years if I am not mistaken, R114 million every year - times three. That was the cost of the project.”

READ: Zwane denies knowing that Vrede shops were supplied with milk from Estina

Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo asked Zwane: “Your understanding is that it would come from the department?”

To which the former minister answered: “Yes.”

Zwane denies that he instructed officials in his department to reprioritise spending to make R30 million available for the Vrede Dairy Farm or to get another R84 million from other departments.

ALSO READ: Zwane denies meeting with officials over delay in R30m Estina payment

He said a provincial government exco had given the project the green light, but evidence leader Advocate Pule Seleka wanted to know if it wasn’t misled.

“Mr Zwane, an innocent person serving on exco hearing of a project to benefit the immediate community, X amount of money will be paid - R228 million according to the presentation - by this company from India; who must support the project? And is it true that Estina was appointed the sole service provider?”

Zwane replied: “Yes I know that, I read about it.”

Seleka asked Zwane, “You knew it then?” The former minister’s response was: “No”.

Zwane said he didn’t know that sole-sourcing was used to secure the contract for Estina.

DENY, DENY, DENY

Zwane said he didn't know how Salim Essa or a travel agent of the Guptas got his passport or who instructed the company to plan his travel to Dubai, India and Switzerland.

He said he was not aware that his travel itinerary dates and flight times were a mirror image of Essa and Tony Gupta’s travel.

Zwane told the state capture commission that he never met the travel agent, and he believed his then department made all arrangements and payments on his behalf.

An affidavit by the agency, which took care of all Gupta travel, Travel Excellence, stated: All interactions in respect of Mr Zwane travel was with Salim Essa."

The agent said she never met Zwane, and he said he never met her.

But she received instructions from Essa to book flights for him, Zwane and Tony Gupta.

The commission wants to know who paid for the trip.

“My assumption has always been – to the best of my recollection, my belief, and my knowledge – that the department will be doing this work.”

Zwane said he wasn’t surprised that the agent had his passport because his office had a copy of it.

But the commission would find out if he also claimed government travel allowances to show that the trip was indeed official.

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