Guptas to appear before Eskom Inquiry in March - chair

Cape Town - The Gupta family and their associates are scheduled to appear before Parliament's Eskom Inquiry on March 6, chair of the portfolio committee on public enterprises Zukiswa Rantho told Fin24 on Monday.

The Eskom Inquiry into mismanagement of state funds at the power utility resumed last week, with committee members hearing testimony from former Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh and current head of generation Matshela Koko.

On Monday Rantho said that although the committee has not sent a formal invitation to the Gupta brothers, the programme of the committee was adopted last week, and a notice was issued indicating the committee would like to see the Guptas and their associates. 

She said that according to the programme, the Guptas and their associates would appear on Tuesday March 6.

Rantho said that the Gupta family would decide which of them would appear. 

“We (still) need to send a formal invitation,” said Rantho. 

But the lawyer representing Ajay Gupta, one of the the three Gupta brothers, on Monday said his client had not received any correspondence from Parliament yet.

Last year, suspended Eskom head of legal Suzanne Daniels testified how Ajay Gupta and Gupta business associate Salim Essa tried to influence decisions related to executives at the power utility.

She said that she had met Ajay, the president’s son Duduzane Zuma and Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Ben Martins along with Essa at an apartment at Melrose Arch, Johannesburg on July 29 2017.

According to Daniels, Ajay had enquired about former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe’s court case. Molefe wanted the courts to overturn a decision by the power utility to rescind his reappointment.

The Guptas had previously written to Rantho, arguing that they should be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them. 

On November 30, lawyers for the Gupta family wrote two separate letters to Parliament arguing that Ajay was not in South Africa at the time.

According to the letters, Ajay was in India for a religious event, and a screenshot of him in a YouTube video from the event was annexed in the letter to the speaker.

The letter addressed to Rantho requested that the Guptas be given an opportunity to respond to the allegations against them that the inquiry had heard, saying that not doing so would render the inquiry “fundamentally unfair”.

Additionally, the lawyers asked that if Ajay or any other member of the Gupta family is requested to appear, a detailed list of questions be provided to them at least two weeks before the hearing, and that the Guptas receive notice of the hearing at least 10 business days in advance.

Not necessary to subpoena Ben Martins

This week the inquiry will hear testimonies from Lucky Montana, former CEO of the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, and Deputy Minister of Public Enterprises Ben Martins. Last year there was talk of having to subpoena Martins after he turned down an invitation from the committee.

However, on Monday, Rantho said it might not be necessary to subpoena Martins as a notice was issued to his department. “He is willing to come,” she said. But Rantho added that the subpoena letter is ready to be signed by the speaker of Parliament. “I don’t think it will be necessary to subpoena him,” she reiterated. 

The inquiry will resume on Tuesday afternoon, with Montana presenting evidence. 

After Martins denied meeting with Daniels and Ajay, Montana tweeted that Martins had arranged a meeting with him and Rajesh (Tony) Gupta and Duduzane while he was still transport minister. 

Martins later admitted in a briefing at Parliament on November 9 that he had met members of the Gupta family on a number of occasions and at one of these meetings, Montana had come to his government house in Pretoria to discuss transport-related matters, Fin24 reported.

He also said he received a letter from the Gupta family, requesting that Prasa chair Sfiso Buthulezi, now deputy minister of finance, and Montana be removed from their positions. 

“Subsequent to that Sfiso Buthelezi remained chairperson of Prasa. And Lucky Montana remained CEO. They were not removed,” Martins said. 

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