Transnet milked by Guptas
New emails suggest that front companies were used to rake in billions for the infamous family
Anew trove of emails shows how a Transnet employee tried to block payments to a “small” Gupta-linked company because she questioned how it had been ceded a computer and hardware supply contract. The obstinance of Transnet’s business support manager, Karen Ferreira, prompted a Zestilor official to lodge a complaint with the chief executive officer (CEO) of the state-owned enterprise (SOE), Siyabonga Gama, on June 24 2015.
Ferreira was questioning how German ITC technology company, T-Systems, ceded its IT data services contract to Zestilor after inheriting it through its purchase of arivia.com in 2009. This cession contract was approved and signed by erstwhile Transnet CEO Brian Molefe on December 1 2014.
Molefe was Transnet’s Group CEO from February 2011 to March 2015. Gama succeeded Molefe in April 2015 in an acting capacity before he was permanently appointed to the position in April 2016.
Zestilor was owned by Zeenat Osmany, the wife of Gupta associate Salim Essa, who has links to Transnet, Eskom and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
This cession agreement is one of a number of deals that Gupta-linked companies sealed over the past few years in order to cash in on multibillion-rand tenders at Transnet and Eskom.
Documents in City Press’ possession appear to show how Essa, Rajesh “Tony” Gupta and Sahara Systems’ CEO Santosh Choubey had hands in controlling front companies that – at face value – appear to be independent.
In the documents, Choubey’s hand looms large as he appears to be using different email accounts from various companies such as Zestilor, Sahara Systems and Global Softech Solutions (GSS). He was also involved in opening Zestilor’s FNB account in September 2015.
Most of this information – which includes internal emails, contracts and minutes of meetings – does not form part of the original Gupta email leaks.
A letter that Zestilor official Stephan Nel wrote to Gama indicates that the company had supplied equipment valued at R38 million to Transnet between January and June 2015, but that Transnet had not paid. The value of the contract is believed to be R500 million per year, but Transnet declined to confirm this because its “details are confidential”.
“We have not been paid to date and this has hampered our cash flows to a point where our financial wellbeing is being placed in jeopardy … Zestilor is of the opinion that it is in fact our status as a small, women-led BEE [black economic empowerment] company that has led to our unfair treatment and it is in this regard that we seek your intervention and support,” Nel wrote.
Nel explains in the complaint that the cession agreement between Zestilor and T-Systems was part of the SOC’s small businesses development commitments, but Ferreira had questioned the legitimacy of the cession.
Ferreira this week declined to comment. “That issue was sorted out. It’s a Transnet contract and there’s nothing I could do. I actually don’t want to comment about it … I don’t want to open that matter again,” she said when contacted by City Press.
Osmany could not be reached for comment. She sold her Adega restaurant in Fordsburg, Johannesburg, last year and the manager there said she had emigrated to Dubai – where the Gupta family bought a home for more than R440 million. Essa did not respond to questions sent to his email address. It is unclear if he emigrated with Osmany.
Osmany left Zestilor about a year ago, according to current company executive director Ian McGregor. “I would like to confirm that Ms Osmany is not a director nor a shareholder of Zestilor, and has not been for over a year,” McGregor said, declining to confirm if the company inherited deals that Osmany had clinched.
Transnet spokesperson Viwe Tlaleane said the firm was not privy to its suppliers’ shareholding structures.
“There is no requirement in law or in Transnet’s procurement procedures and policies that dictates that suppliers disclose their shareholding structure,” Tlaleane said.
“Transnet refutes the claim that these contracts did not conform to governance processes. Transnet’s procurement procedures and policies require the company to ensure that prospective suppliers and their directors are not blacklisted,” she said.
Although Tlaleane declined to confirm the value of the contract, she confirmed that the contract was still valid after it was extended last December without tender procedures being followed. To date, according to sources, Do you think the Guptas will ever be brought to book for these and other revelations? SMS us on 35697 using the keyword GUPTA and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50 Zestilor has raked in about R2.5 billion.
“The extension was approved by National Treasury in terms of the National Treasury Instruction Notes. The details of the contract are confidential and may not be disclosed to third parties,” Tlaleane said.
T-Systems spokesperson André du Plessis said the company did not have a relationship with the Guptas.
Du Plessis said that when T-Systems bought Arivia, it had to continue renting PCs to Transnet, which was not the company’s core business competency.
“So, it made sense for us to cede this element, with Transnet’s permission, to a company that already did this on a national scale – Zestilor. This was finalised in 2014, four years after we bought Arivia. We have no commercial relationship with Zestilor, so Transnet would be best placed to answer your questions about that contract,” she said.
“We have no relationship with the Guptas. As an organisation, we cannot comment on behalf of our customers. From a T-Systems perspective, we are confident that due process has been followed in line with our international policies and standards when making acquisitions and contracting with clients,” Du Plessis said.
Gupta family attorney Gert van der Merwe declined to comment because he only dealt with “court matters” and referred questions to spokesperson Gary Naidoo, who did not respond to emailed questions or City Press’ phone calls since last week.
When questioned about the Guptas’ tentacles through various companies at Transnet, Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown’s spokesperson, Colin Cruywagen, said there were several investigations into the parastatal by the Hawks and Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
“In addition, the minister has indicated her intention to review the boards of all six SOCs in the department’s portfolio over the next few months,” Cruywagen said.
The leaked documents shed some light on how the Guptas had structured these companies, allegedly to milk the SOCs and ensure payments ended up in their coffers.
Another Gupta company that can be linked to tenders in the SOCs is GSS. GSS is in partnership with SAP on a Transnet confinement tender. Tlaleane confirmed that Transnet also had contracts with GSS between 2013 and 2016 for the provision of IT resources.
In an email dated February 26 2015, Choubey communicates with Nel and Essa about a partnership Zestilor had entered into with financing company Rentworks.
“Sir,” Choubey wrote to Essa, “as discussed, attached is the letter. Pls advise. Let me know the next steps. Thanks. Santosh (sic).” The emailed was forwarded to Nel.
The Gupta influence at Transnet does not end with the front companies.
They also appear to have their tentacles in the Transnet board. Board chairperson Linda Mabaso’s son, Malcolm, is adviser to Zwane, a Gupta associate.
Transnet’s acquisition and disposal committee chairperson, Stanley Shane, is Essa’s business associate and serves with him on the board of Antares Capital, while Potso Mathekga is the daughter of North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo, who is close to the Guptas.
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