South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene said he met repeatedly with members of the Gupta family, who have been implicated in a corruption scandal related to former President Jacob Zuma and separately was twice pressured to sign a multi-billion Russian nuclear-power deal by former Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Nene made his comments in a statement accompanying his testimony at a judicial inquiry into allegations of corruption and so-called state capture which involve the Guptas, who are friends with the former president.
Nene denied wrongdoing in his meetings with the family and said he refused to sign the agreement for Russia to provide nuclear energy, a plan that had been publicly backed by Zuma.
President Cyril Ramaphosa came to power in February and has changed the top management at the likes of the revenue authority and the state power utility as part of his pledge to fight corruption. He reappointed Nene as finance minister, a move that helped bolster investor confidence after years of economic mismanagement and regular cabinet changes under Zuma.
Nene first served as finance minister until December 2015, when Zuma fired him, causing a plunge in the rand and bonds. Mcebisi Jonas, who was Nene’s deputy, told the commission the Guptas offered him a bribe to take over the finance minister post, which he declined.
Nene rejected pressure to approve the construction of as many as eight nuclear reactors, which would have the capacity to generate 9,600 megawatts of energy. The costs of the project, championed by Zuma, would have been “astronomical,” he said in his statement.
In July 2015, Nene twice refused to sign a letter from Joemat-Pettersson providing a guarantee to the Russian government on the nuclear program.
“As a result of my refusal to sign the letter, I was seen as the person standing in the way of the nuclear deal,” he said. “I was accused of insubordination, not only by the president but by some of my colleagues.”