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Embattled power utility Eskom appears to have been used as a costly playground for the Guptas and their associates. Former head of legal and compliance Suzanne Daniels first came out as a whistleblower three years ago, when she bravely spoke out about corruption, fraud and political interference which was taking place in full view of officials and politicians, including former president Jacob Zuma, ex-minister of public enterprises, Lynne Brown, and the Eskom board. Daniels’ testimony at the Zondo Commission has further revealed the extent of the rot at Eskom as the Guptas offered bribes, arranged meetings to influence the tender process and hire and fire who they saw fit to do their bidding. – Bernice Maune
By Bernice Maune
As Eskom continues to take centre stage at the State Capture Commission of Inquiry, former head of legal and compliance Suzanne Daniels has made several allegations relating to the running of the board. Daniels reported to Dr Ben Ngubane, who had taken over from Zola Tsotsi in 2015.
Daniels was promoted from company secretary to head of legal and compliance in 2015. She has lifted the lid on the dealings with the Gupta family which plagued the board and the utility. Daniels has made allegations, detailed below about her former colleagues and how she was offered R800m by Gupta associate Salim Essa to bring back then suspended head of technology and commercial Matshela Koko.
1. An email used to communicate between Ben Ngubane, Suzanne Daniels and Salim Essa was allegedly set up by the ex-Eskom chairperson.
Essa used this email to issue instructions to the board on who to appoint, suspend and how to use the power utility’s funds. Daniels claims Essa sent a draft resolution document outlining steps state-owned enterprises should take in withdrawing all advertising from weekly publications.
“It’s clear that Dr Ngubane introduced the info portal email into the system,” said Daniels.
2. Koko introduced Daniels to Essa at a meeting in Melrose Arch in March 2015.
“I was called to Melrose Arch to meet with him around lunchtime. I waited for him at the restaurant called J&B Rivers. He wanted to talk about certain matters but he wasn’t specific. He collected me and we went across the road to an office building.
“I had to hand in my phone at reception. We waited in a boardroom. This gentleman walks in and introduces himself as Salim Essa and that he is the advisor to Minister Brown. I was quite surprised because I hadn’t heard of him before. I looked at Mr Koko and he sat there quite comfortable,” said Daniels.
Essa then asked Daniels what they would need to do to suspend people, referring to four Eskom executives. She responded she wasn’t a labour lawyer. She told him a very good reason was required and it wasn’t possible to ‘suspend will nilly’.
Essa sketched out that former executives would be suspended, including Koko.
“I look at Matshela Koko and he is unfazed by this revelation. Essa continues to tell me there would be an enquiry at Eskom and these executives would be suspended. At that stage, I was quite shocked. Even though I was a senior manager, I had not been exposed to this kind of behind the scenes machinations.
“Koko was relaxed and he had a cooldrink. It was like an ordinary conversation. I said to him (Essa) this is not possible,” said Daniels.
3. Late July 2017, Salim Essa communicates with Suzanne Daniels and offers R800m.
Koko allegedly arranges another meeting with public enterprises minister Lynne Brown. Daniels says this meeting took place at the Trillian group of companies and she was made to sit outside the boardroom during the meeting. She met Eric Wood and observed the meeting between him and Koko.
After the meeting, Daniels alleges Essa enquires about why she was not supporting the return of Koko as Eskom CEO after he had been suspended as head of technology.
Daniels says Essa recited verbatim what she had said at a meeting with the risk and audit committee. This shocked her, as she later found out that Essa may have been on the call.
When told by Daniels that Koko was not fit to run the power utility, Essa apparently asked her to name her price.
“Name your price and we will do whatever you say. I said ‘There’s no price that will make me help you get him back.’ The next minute he says to me, I’ll offer you R800m if you help us and we’ll do whatever you say,” said Essa.
Daniels says she scoffed and burst out laughing, got into her car and drove away.
4. The first introduction to Ajay Gupta is at his luxurious apartment.
“Salim Essa called me. I was quite surprised and morbidly curious as to why he would call me after I turned him down. The discussion was around the Molefe matter. ‘Brian is going to lose that matter, I said.’ A coffee date was then arranged at the African Pride hotel. The meeting ended up being in a townhouse complex.”
“We walked into a lounge-type area… As he opened the door I then realised it was not an office it was an apartment. The curtains were drawn but in this room were Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma, Minister Ben Martins and an Asian lady that I couldn’t remember her name. After introductions, discussions were held around the disciplinary hearings of suspended executives,” Daniels recounted.
A comment was made by Ajay Gupta which made Daniels realise the family was highly influential.
“This matter will be easier to deal with when Nkosazana Zuma comes into power.”
Daniels proclaims she noticed Gupta was dressed in an old t-shirt, tracksuit pants and was unshaven. This angered her as she felt that he acted like he owned the country.
5. An Eskom board member says they are not going down alone.
In late 2016, Daniels furnished former public protector Thuli Madonsela with records of Eskom meetings. This angered the board as some of the accounts of sitting members were under investigation. Tensions escalated on the board with directors complaining in a meeting with Brown that they were classified as politically exposed persons.
“Subsequent to that meeting one of the board directors called me and said she was angry Nedbank was threatening to freeze her account. ‘If these people think I’m going down alone they have another thing coming. Everybody knows that this is a Gupta board and I’ll make sure everyone knows,” said Daniels.
Watch Suzanne Daniels full testimony below and see her discuss the meeting with Gupta frontman Salim Essa where she is offered R800m at the 4:17:00 to 4:26:24 mark.
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