Missing: Salim Essa, the man whose name is mired in state capture web

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Gupta family business associate, Salim Essa, is sought by the State Capture Commission to give evidence.
Gupta family business associate, Salim Essa, is sought by the State Capture Commission to give evidence.
  • Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo says the State Capture Commission has received a complaint from Salim Essa's lawyers saying he being defamed.
  • A request for Essa to avail himself to the commission has drawn a blank.
  • Essa and his companies have been linked to numerous lucrative contracts with state-owned enterprises.

Salim Essa, the elusive dealmaker who is regarded as a Gupta lieutenant, is wanted at the State Capture Commission.

His name has featured prominently in numerous business dealings that have been scrutinised by the commission. 

On Thursday evening, as Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo attempted to makes sense of new, conflicting testimonies involving Essa, he said that Essa should make himself available to the commission. He added that Essa's lawyers had written to the commission saying he was "being defamed".

"The commission wrote to them asking, 'Where is he?' Could you give us an undertaking that if we allocate a date for him to appear before the commission he would come?"

Zondo said the request yielded no response.

"We want him to come and explain things, all kind of things have been said about him. He could explain things to the nation."

The 'mastermind'

For the past two years, Essa has been painted by witnesses at the commission as a mastermind behind backroom manoeuvres and other tactics used to position his companies and those linked to the Guptas for lucrative tenders with the state.

Witnesses have testified about his great influence at the very top.

However, some of those who have appeared before Zondo and been questioned about their links to him - such as former Transnet and Eskom CEO Brian Molefe and former minister of public enterprises Lynne Brown - have vehemently denied knowing him.

This only deepened the mystery around the businessman who is the co-founder of Trillian, another significant player in dodgy contracts with the state-owned companies.

His name was mentioned once again on Thursday evening, during former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko's examination.

According to an affidavit before the commission, Essa is said to have paid R100 000 to a travel agent for Koko's family trip to Indonesia and Dubai in December 2015. Koko denies the claim and told the commission that he footed the bill for the trip himself.

In reaction, Zondo said he wished Essa would appear before the commission to clear this up. 

Koko shared Zondo's sentiments, saying he had attempted to find ways to reach him, but found no leads. There have been media reports that Essa was now living in Dubai.

The common denominator

From lucrative multimillion-rand contracts with Eskom and Transnet, Essa's name has been a common denominator in allegations of undue influence over the executives of the entities, including claims that he had a hand in the appointment of their board members and its sub-committees. 

Some witnesses have suggested that Essa was the mysterious figure behind an anonymous "Businessman" private email address which communicated confidential Eskom issues, including board and procurement matters, making him a de facto executive of the power utility.

Trillian, the company that Essa co-founded with Eric Wood, scored billions from Eskom contracts, and a former CEO of its subsidiary Trillian Management Consulting, Bianca Goodson, testified that the company had its sights on the power utility as its cash cow, with Essa said to be its main deal broker.

Koko will resume his evidence on Monday.

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