Derailed: Nene fumes over use of his name on 'fake' China letter

27 June 2017 - 06:17 By GRAEME HOSKEN and KYLE COWAN
Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene: 'This is completely unacceptable'.
Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene: 'This is completely unacceptable'.

Gupta-linked business associates penned and peddled a letter in the name of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene - who has labelled it a "fake/fabrication" - related to the funding of Transnet's multibillion-rand locomotive procurement project.

The Times has found the letter in the hundreds of thousands of leaked Gupta e-mails. The letter, written in Nene's name, was addressed to the China Development Bank board chairman, Hu Huaibang, in January 2015.

In June 2015, Transnet's chief executive, Siyabonga Gama, who was then acting CEO, announced at a World Economic Forum press conference that the bank had agreed to a R30-billion loan.

The loan was nearly the exact amount paid to the Chinese companies that won the majority of the tender, China South Rail and North China Rail.

The e-mail's metadata shows that the letter was actually written by Tewodros Gebreselasie, a senior economic adviser with Regiments Capital. Regiments is an investment company that was involved in the now-controversial Transnet locomotive procurement project, which was worth over R50-billion.

The Guptas are reported to have received over R5-billion in alleged kickbacks from China South Rail, which was awarded the bulk of the contract.

Nene, in response to queries from The Times, said the letter was "clearly a fake/fabrication and could not have come from my office".

Eric Wood: 'The letter wasn't signed'
Eric Wood: 'The letter wasn't signed'

Nene said he was baffled about how this letter had ended up in the in-tray of Gupta associates.

"It's worrisome. I do not understand it. It says a great deal about confidentiality, especially between the department and state-owned entities.''

"It's worrying as it could implicate you as a minister of finance. This is completely unacceptable and the [Treasury] department must apply its mind to this.''

Gebreselasie, according to the e-mails, then sent the letter to former Transnet chief financial officer Anoj Singh - now Eskom CFO - on January 20 2015 and copied former Regiments director, Eric Wood, his boss. Wood had instructed Gebreselasie to write the letter.

The letter ended with Gupta- owned Sahara computers chief executive Ashu Chawla.

Chawla did not respond to requests for comment.

Wood told The Times he had acted in the best interests of Transnet, which was Regiments' client at the time.

Wood said Singh had requested him to draft the letter.

"It would always be in my interest to get the best deal for the client. Any letters that would have been written to the bank would have been to extract the very best deal for our client, whether it be to lengthen the term of the loan or to reduce the interest rate.

"I would use any influence in my power to get the best deal for the client. If you put Nene behind this, and say we need a better deal, his name carries clout," he said.

Wood emphasised that the letter Gebreselasie wrote and sent to Singh was a merely a draft.

"It was not signed by anybody. It was supposed to be there as proposed wording as what we would have wanted the minister to send off to the bank to assist us in the negotiations."

He said the negotiations between the bank and Transnet, which Regiments was involved in, had taken nearly a year to complete.

Singh said he did not know which letter was being referred to.

"I do not recall this letter. There are a number of letters that I would have looked at and there are a number of things I would have done.''

Asked if he had requested the letter to lobby the bank to support the project, Singh said: "I was the chief financial officer. What do you expect me to be doing, if not lobbying for financial support from a number of agencies?"

He said Regiments had acted as "transaction advisers" for Transnet, "so they probably would have drafted the letter.

"I don't remember ever dispatching a letter to the minister of finance requesting any sort of advice or assistance on this matter.

"If it was, we would have basically sent a letter to the minister of finance through our chairman requesting his assistance through our normal course of business. We wouldn't have signed the letter on his behalf. That would be fraud." Singh said as far as he could remember he did not provide Transnet's board with any letter drafted by Regiments to expedite the financing of the locomotives.

Anoj Singh: 'I do not recall this letter'
Anoj Singh: 'I do not recall this letter'

"I would have never done that. I have asked CDB (China Development Bank) to come back to me. They still need to come back to me in writing, but they don't seem to have such a letter on record.''

Regiments executive chairman Litha Nhyonhya confirmed the letter was penned on Wood's instructions. "It appears that the letter was written at the behest of our then client, Transnet.

"We are not privy to its background and rationale. It is not the policy of Regiments to write letters on behalf of ministers," he said.

The contested letter speaks about promoting China-Africa relations and about improving price competitiveness of development funding originating from China.

"It was in the spirit of this cooperating that Transnet decided to award the bulk of its major locomotive acquisition programme to Chinese suppliers [China North Railways and China South Railways]," the letter reads.

The letter adds that China Development Bank had been in negotiations with Transnet regarding the funding of the locomotives.

"We would therefore like to urge CDB to reconsider the pricing of this strategic funding transaction as well as other potential funding transactions with South African SOEs like Eskom ... "

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