Koko wrote to Mineral Resources minister about Optimum mine, Zondo commission hears

Matshela Koko. (File photo: Gallo Images)
Matshela Koko. (File photo: Gallo Images)

Business rescue practitioner Piers Marsden expressed shock and dismay on Wednesday regarding a letter written by former Eskom executive Matshela Koko to the department of mineral resources.

Marsden was testifying before the commission of inquiry into allegations of state capture led by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

Marsden was appointed to rescue Optimum Coal Mine from its dire financial situation in 2015. However, at the end of 2015, OCM had received assistance from Glencore.

Marsden said on December 1, 2015, he told Eskom that Optimum was removed from business rescue and no longer faced being liquidated and would honour its coal contract with the power utility.

This came after Glencore promised that it would assist Optimum with funds monthly to honour its contract with Eskom, after Optimum rejected an offer from Tegeta to buy its mine.

Evidence leader, advocate Vincent Maleka SC, read a letter which Koko wrote to the former Director General of the Department of Mineral Resources Dr Thibedi Ramontja about the business rescue practitioners. 

Koko claimed he was perplexed by this about-turn by Optimum and Glencore, and said Optimum shouldn't be perceived as operating in the nation's interests.

In that letter, Koko didn't mention at any point that Tegeta intended to buy Optimum and its holding company, Optimum Coal Holdings (OCH).

Marsden testified that he was perplexed as to why Koko wrote to the DG.

'Clear misrepresentation'

"By the time he wrote the letter, the mine was being removed from business rescue and could not be liquidated. There was a clear misrepresentation of the facts. I see no reason why Koko wants intervention from the department because we were honouring our contract with Eskom.

"It is quite disturbing that Eskom wanted to play the hardball and they achieved that following our December 1, 2015 meeting," he said.

Marsden added that few days later, former Glencore CEO, Clinton Ephron, advised him about a meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, regarding the sale of OCH to Tegeta. Among those who attended the meeting in Zurich, was former Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane.

He added that he was concerned with the ability of Tegeta to finance the deal for the mine.

Marsden said three days before the deal could be completed, Oakbay's former CEO Nazeem Howa informed him that there was a shortfall of R600m.

He said that the business rescue practitioners were never involved in the renegotiation of penalties. He added that Eskom settled to the value of around R250m.

Former Director of Minerals and Energy, Dr Thibedi Ramontja, will testify when the hearing continues on Thursday.

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