'I'm no Gupta stooge,' former Transnet CFO tells Zondo commission

Former Transnet finance boss Gary Pita on Tuesday night said his actions against the controversial Gupta family were proof that he was not a stooge.

01 June 2021 - 21:34
By mawande amashabalala AND Mawande AmaShabalala
Atul Gupta at the family compound in Saxonwold. Former Transnet CFO Gary Pita told the Zondo commission he had visited the compound four times.
Image: KEVIN SUTHERLAND Atul Gupta at the family compound in Saxonwold. Former Transnet CFO Gary Pita told the Zondo commission he had visited the compound four times.

Former Transnet finance boss Gary Pita on Tuesday night poured cold water on “insinuations” that he was a Gupta family stooge.

Pita was implicated at the state capture inquiry by a certain “Witness 3", a former close protection officer and driver whose identity has not been revealed. According to the protector, he on several occasions had driven Pita to the Gupta residence in Saxonwold.

But Pita told the commission that it was in fact he who had stopped Gupta advances at Transnet. He admitted to have visited the Gupta compound on four occasions, three of the visits he said he remembered in detail.

The first of these visits, said Pita, he was indeed driven to the Gupta house by Witness 3, though he did not know that the house belonged to the family. This, according to him, took place around February after he was confirmed permanent CFO, contrary to his former driver who claimed it was in late January before his confirmation. 

Pita had gone to the Gupta residence on invitation by their lieutenant, Salim Essa, who he knew as 60% owner of Trillian Capital which did business with Transnet.

The two of them had only met once before at the Melrose Arch later the previous year.

Pita said the meeting at the Gupta compound took an unexpected turn from what he had anticipated when Essa started “boasting about how connected and powerful he is in the political and business landscape” in the country.

After this, two months later, Pita testified, Essa invited him to the Gupta residence to lend his ear to an “investor” from India who was to make a presentation. On this occasion, he drove himself to the compound since it took place at the weekend. 

“Mr Essa greeted me at the entrance, he then introduced me to Mr Tony Gupta who then took over and it was clear that he was the host,” he said.

In June, owing to confusion about whether Regiments had surrendered a contract with Transnet to Essa-owned Trillian, Pita stopped Transnet's payments to the company.

Essa summoned him to the Gupta residence at which meeting Tony was also present after for the first time he was asked to leave his mobile phone outside.

“There was almost a panic from Mr Essa that payments were not being made. They were very demanding,” said Pita. “They threatened me that they were politically connected and that Transnet should consider continuing with payments. It was quite clear they wanted payment. When I told them they were not going to be paid, they were taken aback. They felt my posture was not accepted and that created a barrage of verbal abuse,” he said.

After the payments stopped, Pita went on to recommend a cancellation of the Regiments/Trillian contract. And Essa made several other attempts to get him to another meeting which did not happen for seven months.

Then in February 2017, Essa's partner Eric Wood informed him that the issues legal issues between Regiments and Trillian were resolved and that he should meet Essa — and he agreed.

At this meeting, claims Pita, Tony continued threatening him and attempting to blackmail him with the political connections of the Guptas.

Gupta and Essa, he said, demanded that Transnet pay to Trillian not less than R60m for “saving R600m” for Transnet. Pita said he refused.

For Pita, this “bears proof” that he never had an underhanded relationship with the Gupta family nor Essa.

“This is not in keeping with a Gupta stooge,” said Pita.