FIRST TAKE | SIU faces big test in trying to nail the Guptas’ defiant Eskom enablers

Brian Molefe (Pic: Gallo Images)
Brian Molefe (Pic: Gallo Images)
  • Eskom was a one of the main targets of the Gupta state capture network, writes Pieter du Toit.
  • Brian Molete, Anoj Singh and Matshela Koko are but three bad actors in Eskom and the SIU's sights, as they attempt to recoup some of the lost funds. 
  • While the Guptas themselves have fled the country, those who remain are the facilitators. The case against them should be watertight, because they must be held to account, says Du Toit.

In the 2016-’17 financial year Brian Molefe, then Eskom’s chief executive, received a whopping R8.1 million as a performance bonus. 

His sidekick Anoj Singh, Eskom’s chief financial officer at the time, scored a cool R1.8 million bonus, while Matshela Koko, who was group executive for generation (and acting chief executive at one stage), was awarded one of R1.4 million. 

Not bad for a triumvirate who oversaw, engineered and enabled the entry of one the country’s most notorious and brazen crime families to Eskom and gave them access to the utility’s enormous procurement budget. 

Molefe, Singh and Koko are but three of the bad actors the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) and Eskom have trained their guns on, in their bids to recoup some of the billions of rands that were lost during the gluttonous years of grand corruption and looting that became known as state capture. 

They, alongide the Gupta triumvirate of Ajay, Atul and Tony, their fixer Salim Essa, as well as former Eskom board chairperson Ben Ngubane and ex-minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane, will now have to answer for their dealings in court. The SIU cannot pursue criminal charges, but will be able to secure civil claims against those implicated in the huge losses suffered by the state. 

And someone like Koko, known for lying about authorising a prepayment to the Guptas so that they can purchase a coal mine whose owners Molefe and Zwane helped shake down, will have to answer and account for his actions in court papers rather than on Twitter. 

Main targets

Eskom – just like Transnet – was a one of the main targets of the Gupta state capture network. Its enormous capital budgets were some of the biggest honeypots the crooks and thieves wanted access to, and thanks to corrupted governance at Eskom and in the national executive of then-president Jacob Zuma, they ensured exactly that. Eskom became one of the main sites of extraction and rent-seeking during the public sector debauchery between 2009 and 2018. 

The Optimum coal mine deal is a particularly crude example of how the Gupta network operated. In her investigation into state capture, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela details how Molefe threw himself at the Guptas' feet, remaining in close contact with them during the entire period during which the Guptas' Optimum deal was negotiated. 

Zwane was for his part a minister almost exclusively devoted to promoting the Guptas’ interests in government. And his very first task was to help them buy the two embattled Optimum coal mines from Glencore. He even flew to Switzerland alongside Essa to go and strong-arm the commodities trader into disposing of the mines. And then he feasted on their hospitality, flying back to South Africa via Dubai, even though business class tickets were paid for by his department. 

Koko and Singh went out of their way to help the Guptas purchase the mines: Singh signed a bank guarantee for R1.6 billion to help buy the mines; Koko signed a highly irregular and possibly illegal prepayment for coal in favour if the Guptas to the value of R659 million after a late night tender committee meeting. 

And both were treated to Dubai junkets at the behest of the Guptas. 

The Guptas have fled the country, fearful that their looting could land them in jail. The South African government is attempting to facilitate their extradition from some of the foreign territories where they live, including Dubai, but there are no prospects of ever seeing them in South African courts.

What’s left are the facilitators, the bagmen and the useful idiots.  

Zwane, part of the capture faction in the governing party, was kicked out of Cabinet during the very first cabinet reshuffle after Zuma was ousted. He, however, remains an ANC member in good standing and serves as an MP and chairperson of the portfolio committee on transport. 

Molefe, Singh and Koko have all departed Eskom. They remain more defiant than disgraced. 

Koko particularly has emerged as the face of the fightback, denying and dismissing any and all accusations of criminality and corruption. When the announcement by the SIU and Eskom was made on Monday, he rubbished it, tweeting that the legal actions will "come to nought". 

South Africans have become used to big revelations about grand corruption leading nowhere. Koko knows this. The SIU needs to ensure that their case against the accused are watertight. Those responsible for helping the Guptas line their Louis Vuitton suitcases need to be held to account. 

Pieter du Toit is News24’s assistant editor for in-depth news. He co-authored 'Enemy of the People' (2017) about the years of state capture with Adriaan Basson. 

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