Motau blasts firms' innocence plea in strategic oil stocks deal

Tina Joemat-Pettersson Photo: Adrian de Kock
Tina Joemat-Pettersson Photo: Adrian de Kock
Tina Joemat-Pettersson Photo: Adrian de Kock
  • Advocate Terry Motau (SC) said the conduct of the parties in the sale was a critical part of the applicant's case. 
  • The decision was made under former energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson's watch.
  • The ten million barrels were sold to various companies for less than R5 billion and are estimated to cost R7 billion to replace.

The parties that benefited from the sale of strategic oil stocks - which the Strategic Fuel Fund is seeking to have declared invalid - cannot plead ignorance or innocence in the transaction or how it transpired, Advocate Terry Motau (SC), representing the SFF, said on Monday. 

The SFF approached the Western Cape High Court in Cape Town to have the 2015 sale of some 10 million barrels of South Africa's strategic crude oil reserve stocks to various companies overturned. The decision was made under Tina Joemat-Pettersson's watch, during her time as energy minister, under the administration of former president Jacob Zuma. The Strategic Fuel Fund has sought to have the sale of the stock overturned since at least 2017.

The barrels were sold, with no evident tender process, for less than R5 billion, considered well below the market value that they were worth, as the stock is estimated to cost R7 billion to replace.

Presenting arguments for the SFF before high court Judge Owen Rogers in a virtual hearing, Motau said the conduct of the parties in the sale was a critical part of the applicant's case.

'Not a matter of innocence'

"We indicate the fact that the conduct of the parties and their innocence is a relevant factor when courts determine, where the court simply reviews and sets decisions aside.

"It (our case) looks at the conduct of the parties in the resultant transactions and says it would not be fair to disregard the conduct in that transaction," said Motau.

Motau mentioned some of the nine companies that got the reserve stock in the transaction – including Taleveras Oil, Venus Rays and Vitol Energy – saying the transaction cannot be exempt from scrutiny in the courts, even if the respondents contend that they were not aware of any impropriety.  

"Venus [Rays'] contention that they are innocent makes no sense. It's not a matter of their innocence," he said. 

He added: "We say, properly construed in this context, Vitol [Energy's] claim cannot withstand scrutiny in trying to skew the process in its favour.

"As a matter of logic, that reasoning is flawed. We are not contending that they paid a bribe, but not paying a bribe does not secure the desired results," Motau said.

On the contention of innocence by Vitol, Motau plainly said:

"The claim of innocence on Vitol's part cannot reasonably be made in this case. It is so farfetched and so improbable that Your Lordship can simply dismiss it."

Motau said examples of skewing specifications in the transaction were reasons enough for the court to dismiss the preponderance of innocence of the firms that benefited.

Judge Rogers adjourned on Monday afternoon and asked that the applicants conclude arguments on Tuesday morning.

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