We booked trips for Matshela Koko, Anoj Singh on behalf of Salim Essa, travel agents tell Zondo

A small travel agency handled trips for former Sahara Computers executive and Gupta associate Salim Essa.
A small travel agency handled trips for former Sahara Computers executive and Gupta associate Salim Essa.
  • The State Capture Commission heard from a small travel agency that handled trips for former Sahara Computers executive and Gupta associate Salim Essa.
  • The agency listed former Transnet CFO Anoj Singh and former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko among the people the travel agency had planned trips for.
  • The travel agents said while they were not close to individuals of interest, they arranged trips for them on Essa's referral.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Tuesday heard from a small travel agency that handled trips for former Sahara Computers executive and Gupta associate Salim Essa.

The agency also counts Rajesh Gupta, former Transnet CFO Anoj Singh, former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko and former minister of mineral resources and energy Mosebenzi Zwane among the people the travel agency, Travel Excellence, had planned trips for.

The work of this small agency became of interest to the commission as Travel Excellence had arranged trips where ministers and executives of state-owned companies were said to have met with Essa and other associates of the controversial Gupta family in the United Arab Emirates.

Commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and evidence leader Advocate Pule Seleka first questioned Travel Excellence travel agent Sameera Suliman. She and an associate submitted an affidavit to the Hawks, which was also furnished to the commission.

On Monday, Koko told the commission that a trip he took to Indonesia and Dubai with his family in 2015 was facilitated through travel agency Thompsons and denied evidence that he travelled in accordance with Travel Excellence's arrangement, despite it possibly having arranged travel for him at Essa's request and cost.

Suliman said Travel Excellence was a small travel agency that specialised in flight arrangements, hotel bookings and tours. She said Travel Excellence worked as non-International Air Travel Association agents that worked with the now liquidated Serendipity Worldwide Travel.

She said before working at Travel Excellence with Serendipity, she worked for Harvey World Travel, but had been with Travel Excellence in 2016 as a permanent employee after three months' probation. She said she met Essa before she joined Travel Excellence.

"Salim Essa was introduced to me at Harvey in 2015. He moved over with me to Travel Excellence, but there was not much travelling being done. As my client, I was to do his travel arrangements. I can't remember the first ticket I issued for him," said Suliman.

Essa 'planned many trips'

Suliman said Essa was a referral from her previous employer and that he had an account with Travel Excellence through which he referred many more clients and planned many trips for himself and others. She said Anoj Singh did not have an account with Travel Excellence, but the agency planned trips for him at Essa's instruction.

"We did referrals in the travel industry. He was referred to me by Mr Salim Essa. I never met him on a face-to-face basis. It was either on a telephone call or via texts. If anyone was referred to me, they would be a guarantor. We didn't have big account system, but for our records and purposes, we named a transaction after the person who referred the client as a guarantor," Suliman said.

She said she did not know whether Singh would book with Travel Excellence in the future after Essa's first referral, but said the agency hoped to provide a good service, to gain and retain customers from Essa's referrals. Asked about Koko's trip to Indonesia and Dubai, she said a trip was processed for him.

"The cost of the booking with the visas was R100 000. I don't know Mr Koko from anywhere. I don't know Suzanne Daniels from anywhere. The only means of receiving the payment was from Mr Essa. I know Mr Koko is saying the R100 000 could have been for Mr Essa's travel.

"But if you go into our records, there were two sets of bookings, one for Mr Koko's family and one for Mr Essa's family. Mr Koko's family was R100 000 for which we received payment on 20 January. We deposited and receipted it for that. Mr Essa flew out in December and his tickets worked out to R118 000. We didn't work it out all at once because we had an account for him," she said.

Koko told the commission on Monday that the R100 000 paid to Travel Excellence in January was paid for Essa, but Suliman said Koko's costs came to R100 000 and the payment to Travel Excellence was in relation to that trip.

She said Essa did not pay directly for his travels once-off, but in drips and drabs through another client. Suliman said the R100 000 could not have been for Essa.

"I can't have a doubt because there is no other payment made for his ticket and his was exactly R100 000," Suliman said.

During the afternoon session, Travel Excellence travel agent Halima Alana told the commission that she started her own travel agency with her father as director and that Suliman joined her later on in an arrangement where Suliman would pass clients over to her.

She said she knew Salim Essa and met with Sahara Computers chief executive Ashu Chawla after handling his traveling and booking for six years.

"I knew Mr Ashu Chawla because he was referred to us through Salim Essa where the entire Sahara account was given to us through Salim Essa, whereby he introduced Sameera to Rajesh Gupta and said he should deal with us. From there I got to know Ashu Chawla as we handled all the Sahara travel," said Alana.

Travel arrangements for Zwane

Alana said she did not know former minister of mineral resources and energy Mosebenzi Zwane personally, but that she knew that she had to make travel and booking arrangements for him, under Chawla or Essa's instruction.

Alana said Travel Excellence did bookings for Essa, Rajesh Gupta and Zwane for four flights between 13 and 21 September of 2015 from Johannesburg to Dubai, Dubai to Delhi, Delhi to Dubai, Dubai to Zurich, Zurich to Dubai and Dubai to Johannesburg. She said this booking was sent to Essa.

"When I did a check, I have a payment from 5 September, which amounts to R166 290, which is for these tickets and the ticket was issued on 5 September and the payment was made at the same time. I just can't recall who made the payment because it was an EFT [electronic funds transfer]. I can't recall if it came from Sahara or another account," Alana said.

She said she was confident that the bank with whom her business' bank account was under would be able to retrieve information in relation to whom the EFT payment came from. She said she met Gupta once to drop off travel documentation, but she never met Zwane personally.

Essa was 'guarantor'

She said Travel Excellence had no account for Anoj Singh and that any traveling they arrange for him was on the basis of a referral from Essa.

"Mr Essa stood as a guarantor for quite a lot of the new referrals we got because Mr Essa introduced Sameera to Anoj Singh, Mr Essa introduced Sameera to Mr Rajesh Gupta, Mr Salim Essa introduced her to, you know, a few clients," she said.

Alana said she did not know Koko personally, but records she had showed that he did not pay for the trip that Travel Excellence had arranged for him at Essa's instruction.

She said Essa and his referrals and the bookings that he initiated was a large part of Travel Excellence's success as a travel agency, and that any association he may have had with individuals implicated in state capture was "unfortunate".

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