As struggling state-owned electricity provider Eskom turns to Interpol for help in tracking down the assets of Gupta-linked financial advisory firm Trillian, a new leak has shed light on the shadowy network of shell companies where some of the funds may have ended up.
The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a non-profit investigative journalism platform, reported this week that the money earned by Trillian from public contracts has been circulated among shell companies across the world, including in India and Dubai.
Eskom, which has a debt burden of R440bn and has been forced to borrow money just to pay interest on what it owes, has been attempting to recoup R595m from the advisory firm. This follows a ruling by the High Court in Pretoria in July which found its contract with the power utility was "unlawful and invalid".
Minister Pravin Gordhan has said that recovering money paid in unlawful and corrupt contracts by state companies is one part of his plan to restore good governance and operational capability. "The consequences of the damage to state-owned enterprises are felt in particular by the millions of the poor people of our country in the form of unemployment, poverty and inequality," he told Parliament earlier in the year.
Trillian, meanwhile, has filed notice for leave to appeal the July judgment, according to Daily Maverick's investigative unit Scorpio. In previous court submissions Trillian's lawyers have argued it was entitled to the funds it received from Eskom.
Even ahead of the July court judgment, Eskom had started to search for Trillian's assets. The group's chairperson and current interim CEO Jabu Mabuza, said in an affidavit before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, that it was working with both the Asset Forfeiture Unit and Interpol "looking for Trillian's assets at other jurisdictions outside the country".
The OCCRP's article, by journalists Khadija Sharife and Mark Anderson, says it "exclusively obtained a Trillian server containing more than three million documents, including memos, invoices, and internal emails". Fin24 has not seen the documents.
The article states that Trillian oversaw the movement of funds originating in Eskom (and other state-owned entities) to a network of 10 shell companies and consultancies.
"Intra-company and shareholder loans appeared to be a key mechanism for the laundering of the money, which in some cases was repeatedly moved from firm to firm, obfuscating its origin," it states.
Trillian did not reply to the OCCRP's requests for comment. The group has in the past denied any wrongdoing in securing government contracts, saying in 2017 that it has always "followed due process in securing work either directly or in partnership with others".