July 26, 2019 / 2:53 PM / a month ago

I only exchanged pleasantries with Guptas, South Africa's Ramaphosa tells inquiry

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa told an inquiry into state corruption that he had met and exchanged pleasantries in the past with members of the Gupta family, friends of former president Jacob Zuma who are accused of influence-peddling.

FILE PHOTO: South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa leaves after the announcement of the new cabinet in Pretoria, South Africa May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The inquiry is looking into allegations that Zuma, ousted by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party in February 2018, allowed cronies to plunder state resources and influence senior appointments during his nine years in power.

The three Gupta brothers, who deny wrongdoing, are accused of using their relationship with the former president to profit financially and influence senior appointments.

Ramaphosa and members of the cabinet were asked by the inquiry, overseen by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, to submit statements about whether they had any meetings or interactions with the Guptas.

“I have met two of the brothers on three or four occasions,” Ramaphosa said in an affidavit to the inquiry signed earlier this month and published on Friday.

“My interactions with the Gupta brothers were at events where nothing of any consequence was discussed. I never engaged with them beyond basic greetings, pleasantries and common courtesies,” Ramaphosa added.

The president has not been accused of having a corrupt relationship with the Guptas, but some opposition politicians have criticised him for not doing more to expose corruption when he was Zuma’s deputy.

Ramaphosa has staked his reputation on cleaning up South African politics since he replaced Zuma as head of state early last year and then won a first full five-year term in May.

Zuma appeared at the inquiry last week and denied that he had done anything unlawful with the Guptas. He said he was the victim of a conspiracy.

The 77-year-old had agreed to set up the inquiry during his final weeks in office.

Ramaphosa said in his affidavit that he had attended a meeting between a Gupta brother and senior ANC officials in April 2016, when he was Zuma’s deputy.

Ramaphosa said he raised at the meeting the issue of the Guptas landing an aeroplane at South Africa’s Waterkloof Air Force Base. He said he told the Gupta brother that his family had placed Zuma in an invidious position.

The Guptas, who left South Africa around the time Zuma was ousted, were not available for comment on Friday.

Inquiry chairman Zondo said Ramaphosa had told him he would attend the inquiry to give evidence if Zondo asked him to do so.

Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Catherine Evans

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