South Africa’s Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene has told a judicial corruption inquiry on Wednesday that he was fired by former president Jacob Zuma for refusing to approve a $100 billion nuclear power deal with Russia in 2015.
Mr. Nene is the highest profile figure to give evidence at a probe into alleged influence-peddling by the Gupta family, friends of Mr. Zuma, who are accused of using their relationship with the former leader to unduly win state contracts.
Mr. Zuma has repeatedly denied accusations by his opponents that he pushed for a deal with President Vladimir Putin at a BRICS summit for Russia to build a fleet of nuclear power stations.
But in the first public account of the nuclear negotiations, Mr. Nene told the judicial panel that Ex-president Zuma became hostile toward him at the sidelines of the summit, when he refused to sign a guarantee letter Mr. Zuma wanted to present to President Putin.
“I told the president in the meeting that I could not sign the letter without having first interrogated the financial and fiscal implications,” he said.
Opposition politicians say the proposed deal, which would have been the biggest state contract in South Africa’s history, would have included huge kickbacks for Mr. Zuma and the Gupta family.
The Indian-born brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, have been accused of using their ties with the embattled former president to siphon off billions of rand in state funds.
They are also accused of inappropriately influencing cabinet appointments during Mr. Zuma’s presidency.
Earlier this year, the Guptas left South Africa around the time of Mr. Zuma’s forced resignation. The authorities have since been seeking their return to face prosecution.
A spokesman for former President Zuma did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Allegations of corruption have been swirling around Mr. Zuma and the Gupta brothers for years, but the current inquiry is for the first time allowing top government officials to give their accounts to the public.