The Trillian millions: Report fingers Gupta-linked firm in dodgy deals

30 June 2017 - 06:26 By KYLE COWAN and GRAEME HOSKEN
DEFIANT: Tokyo Sexwale comments on the findings of an independent investigation into Trillian Capital relating to state capture Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL
DEFIANT: Tokyo Sexwale comments on the findings of an independent investigation into Trillian Capital relating to state capture Picture: ALAISTER RUSSELL

A damning report has exposed Gupta-linked financial company Trillian Capital Partners for alleged corrupt practices involving multimillion-rand payments from Eskom and Transnet.

It has also called into question whether Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown deliberately lied to parliament about payments by state-owned entities to the company totalling more than R300-million.

Known Gupta associate Salim Essa has a 60% stake in Trillian.

Trillian chairman Tokyo Sexwale, who commissioned the investigation in October, yesterday released the report, written by advocate Geoff Budlender.

During his release of the report, Sexwale said Essa, who failed to return calls for comment from The Times, had tried to convene an urgent board meeting on Wednesdayto remove him as chairman.

“I think it’s self-explanatory as to why he would want to do that.’’

The investigation was prompted after a former Trillian company CEO blew the whistle and reported the alleged corruption to former public protector Thuli Madonsela.

The report looks into allegations of state capture by TCP and the involvement of its chief executive, Eric Wood, and whether he had prior knowledge of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s axing and replacement with Des van Rooyen in December 2015.

The main findings of Budlender’s report are that:

  • The Trillian whistle-blower was right about Wood having prior knowledge of Nene’s axing, saying it raised the “very troubling question” as to how information about how President Jacob Zuma was going to exercise his constitutional prerogative came to be in the hands of a private company — and particularly where the information is “commercially very sensitive”;
  • While Brown told parliament in December 2016 that no money was paid to Trillian by Eskom for negotiating the Duvha power plant insurance claim and that Eskom had not appointed Trillian to source a new supplier to replace the exploded boiler, he was givenby Trillian invoices for over R250-million, which were stamped paid, indicating otherwise. He said the information Brown gave to parliament was either false or seriously misleading;
  • Assertions by Trillian that the Gupta family has no links to the company or other companies part of its group were ‘‘dishonest’’; and
  • Questions need to be asked over Transnet’s payments of over R60-million to TCP, with what appears to be duplicate invoicing and invoices issued for work which Trillian didnot do.

Budlender, in his report, slammed TCP management which he said “obstructed ” him in his investigation. He said a lack of co-operation from Wood and Trillian meant that his investigation could not be completed.
But Wood denied this.

He told The Times neither he nor any other Trillian management member had had a chance to give input.
‘‘Budlender said he tried to obtain information from us, but this is incorrect. We told him that we were anxious to appear before him, but he wrote back to say that he required
written information first.’’

Wood claimed an ‘‘impasse ’’ was reached as they had wanted to present oral testimony first, which would have provided the necessary context, ‘‘which we would have supported with written testimony’’.
He said Budlender refused this.

Budlender hit back, saying: ‘‘I told him to contact me directly. That was Monday last week. The first time he made contact with me was yesterday (Wednesday), after the close of business to say that he wanted to talk to me.’’

He said he had relied on the documents which he had received from Trillian, including an answering affidavit from Wood in a court case which Wood’s former company,
Regiments Capital, has against him, to conduct his inquiry.

‘‘I used these documents because I could not get any information from Wood. The frustration around this inquiry was that we could not complete it because we could not get any co-operation from Trillian,’’ said Budlender.
Wood said he was ready to testify under oath before a commission of inquiry.

‘‘But we also expect our accusers to testify before the same inquiry so that the veracity of their allegations can be tested.’’Wood said when he first approached Essa to go into business, he had no idea about his connections to the Gupta family.

‘‘I knew about maybe one or two such as VR Laser and his small investment in Oakbay, but he was also an independent businessman with other investments not linked to the Guptas.‘‘I approached Essa for three reasons: he was black, has capital for business and I was impressed with his connections which could help us conclude business deals.‘‘I have put it to Essa about whether he was involved in anything untoward and every time he told me no. I took him at face value.

I believe people are innocent until proven guilty.’’But now Wood wants to buy out Essa. “The restructuring of our business is an absolute necessity now more than ever. That restructuring is to move away from the Gupta link‚” he said.

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