Transnet CEO's Dubai hotel stay - how Guptas got the bill

07 September 2017 - 16:54 By Kyle Cowan
Ajay Gupta and his younger brother Atul. File photo.
Ajay Gupta and his younger brother Atul. File photo.

Two months before being permanently appointed as Transnet group CEO‚ Siyabonga Gama enjoyed a two-night stay at the five-star Oberoi Hotel in Dubai‚ apparently courtesy of the Gupta family.

Gama has confirmed meeting key Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa during the stay but denies the Guptas paid for him.

The leaked Gupta emails have revealed a booking confirmation emailed to Gupta-owned Sahara Systems chief executive Ashu Chawla under Gama’s name.

Chawla then forwarded the email to long time Gupta family associate Essa‚ who until recently was the 60% majority owner of Trillian Capital Partners‚ a financial consulting firm which netted millions in contracts with state-owned entities Transnet and Eskom.

Trillian was formed when CEO Eric Wood broke away from his partners at Regiments Capital‚ a company which already had established business links with state-owned companies.

Wood last month bought Essa’s shares in Trillian.

But when confronted with the allegations that the Guptas or their associate had picked up his tab‚ Gama insisted he had paid his own way.

Gama also provided an invoice‚ which he claimed to be from the Oberoi and which is stamped “Paid”. The invoice does not show the hotel’s name‚ does not say who settled the bill and was printed in June 2017‚ a year-and-a-half after he stayed at the Oberoi Hotel — and around the same time he was approached for comment by TimesLIVE for the first time.

The leaked emails reveal‚ however‚ that a month after Gama’s stay‚ in February 2016‚ The Oberoi emailed Chawla a statement for Sahara Computer's outstanding account.

On the account‚ Gama's bill is listed as unpaid‚ including that of Denel board chairman Dan Manthsa and Eskom head of generation‚ Mathsela Koko. The amount is the same as on the invoice Gama provided.

“I can confirm that Salim Essa of Trillian was a contractor of Transnet‚” Gama said. “When I was in Davos‚ I received a request for a meeting from Essa. Since I travelled on Emirates Airlines‚ he suggested he meet me in Dubai during the stopover since he was in Dubai at the time‚” Gama continued.

“I agreed and he suggested that he will reserve a hotel room‚ which I paid for‚” he said‚ adding that the Trillian and Regiments contracts were later cancelled by Transnet.

Gama explained that Essa “raised the issue of his involvement in Trillian which was being formed as an offshoot of Regiments".

"[Essa said] the expertise would remain the same as core resources would migrate from Regiments and that the quality of work for Transnet would be unaffected‚" Gama told TimesLIVE.

Gama was booked to stay in a deluxe suite for two days between January 22 and 24 2016.

Gama was permanently appointed as GCEO in April 2016 after acting in the position from April 2015.

Flight bookings found in the leaked emails show that Ajay Gupta was in Dubai for half a day at the same time.

Gama denied having ever met with Ajay Gupta saying he only met Essa in Dubai and later confirmed he had met Essa on previous occasions at the Transnet offices.

“It is a fact that I am not appointed as group CEO for Transnet because of any Gupta association. I am in my current position on merit alone after serving in an acting GCEO position for over a year.

“Prior to that I had come through the ranks of Transnet divisions that I managed and turned around to profitability‚” Gama added.Transnet contracts with Regiments and Trillian were cancelled in November 2016‚ Gama said.

“This was after the contracts became the subject of a legal dispute between Trillian and Regiments. Our decision was based on the need to safeguard Transnet from possible reputational harm as its name was cited in their private proceedings. When I was appointed‚ Regiments were already a service provider to Transnet‚” Gama said.

In April this year‚ Gama slammed those linking Transnet with dodgy deals with the Gupta family‚ saying allegations against the family were nothing more than “alternative facts”.

“I am not aware that as we sit here today there is any number of the Gupta family who has been criminally convicted and therefore requires to be blacklisted and must not do any business with anyone‚” Gama told the Financial Mail at the Africa CEO conference in Geneva.

Gama has worked at Transnet since 1994 and was CEO of Transnet Freight Rail‚ the group’s largest division‚ from 2005 until 2015 when he was appointed as acting group CEO.

Transnet has come under intense scrutiny over a number of multi-million rand deals with companies believed to be linked to the Gupta family.

Information from the leaked Gupta emails revealed a contract between Hong Kong-based company Tequesta‚ 100% owned by Essa‚ and locomotive manufacturer China South Rail (CSR) which resulted in Tequesta netting around R5.3-billion in “consultancy fees” since 2014.

CSR‚ one of four companies‚ was awarded the lion’s share of Transnet's R50-billion locomotive procurement project in 2014.

Gama in July this year announced Transnet had appointed Werksmans attorneys to conduct an investigation into these claims which include whether or not Transnet was overcharged and if it followed its own procurement processes.

Advocate Geoff Budlender was also tasked to investigate Trillian by its former board chair‚ Tokyo Sexwale.

His report‚ released at the end of June 2017‚ said Transnet paid around R105m to Trillian between April and June 2016 - some of which appeared to be work Regiments had actually done.