Ferial Haffajee: Atul Gupta’s beady eye on Eskom and the Zondo Commission

Ferial Haffajee (Gallo Images / City Press / Herman Verwey)
Ferial Haffajee (Gallo Images / City Press / Herman Verwey)

The Gupta family have hot-tailed it out of South Africa and are now holed up in Dubai. It is well over a year since the Emirate’s rulers said that they would start looking into the family’s involvement with high-end corruption in South Africa, which we call state capture, but there is still a Sahara-sized desert between the family and extradition.

They are gone with our money, but the son who served as the de facto marketing manager of the family, Atul Gupta, keeps an eye on South Africa and especially on the current hearings into Eskom before the commission of inquiry into state capture chaired by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

The family has refused to appear before the commission of inquiry, but they have applied to cross-examine witnesses, including the former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who was the first witness to tell the commission how the family offered him the job of finance minister for a bribe of R600m over instalments, and dependent on how he met their key performance measures.

Their request to cross-examine from Dubai has been refused.

Atul Gupta’s Twitter feed reveals that he has an eye trained on the commission, which is currently hearing about how the family came to own the Optimum coal mine, along with a lucrative stake in the Richards Bay Coal Terminal.

When the banks shut off banking facilities to the family and related entities, they lost control of Optimum, which teetered into business rescue, from which it has not yet recovered.

Optimum was going to be the start of the family’s mega-empire: with its JIC Mining Services, the family wanted to break into mining and to become as wealthy as the Oppenheimer family, with which it went toe-to-toe on a private VIP terminal at OR Tambo airport. The family bought Shiva mine a while before, and while analysts called it worthless, there is now little doubt that the nuclear deal for a fleet of stations was being pushed because its uranium is a feedstock for nuclear power.

Gupta maintains a great interest in South Africa, according to his Twitter feed. There is nothing on his timeline from Dubai, for example, or even about India, except for quotes from religious leaders.

The Zondo commission of inquiry is currently hearing testimony from a range of Eskom executives on how systems were subverted to make an estimated R600m pre-payment to Tegeta, the name of the Gupta-owned company which took over Optimum from Glencore.

Atul Gupta follows former acting Eskom CEO and head of primary energy, Matshela Koko, closely, and often retweets his content, which is usually geared at seeking to prove that he and former CEO Brian Molefe were engaged in a revolution to dislodge old monopoly coal interests at the electricity utility to spread the gains among new players.

Gupta followed last week’s testimony by Glencore’s former SA CEO, Clinton Ephron, very closely, and he retweeted all content critical of the global commodities trading company.

Gupta continues to follow the remnants of the trolling bot army and blogging sites the family is said to have supported through its PR contract with the now defunct multinational Bell Pottinger. His timeline shows he remains committed to coal; Gupta has become part of the campaign against independent power producers (IPPs) led by Koko, who runs a selective timeline that appears to prove that IPPs are budget-breaking and much more expensive than nuclear or fossil fuels.

Last week, he also retweeted any content which sought to disprove former finance minister Trevor Manuel’s testimony that former Sports minister Fikile Mbalula had been told of his elevation to the Cabinet, not by former President Jacob Zuma, but by one of the Gupta brothers.

The Budget Review, tabled in February, showed that the costs of independent power (mostly renewable sources like sun and wind) are coming down fast enough to rival coal. An analysis of the middle Gupta brother's timeline reveals that he is bitter about how the family has been driven out and how its activities are now subject to investigation in a number of forums, not only the commission of inquiry.

To temper the ugly and temporal on his timeline, Gupta also includes messages from Swami Avdheshanand (@AvdheshanandG) and the Dalai Lama.

A few days ago, Gupta tweeted this message from the Lama, which spoke volumes about where his mind is at: "When we’re under the sway of anger or attachment, we’re limited in our ability to take a full and realistic view of the situation.

"When the mind is compassionate, it is calm, and we’re able to use our sense of reason practically, realistically, and with determination."

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