GUPTA ‘PAWNS’ FALL

Ed­i­fice of state cap­ture cracks as pres­sure mounts

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - SIYABONGA MKHWANAZI AND TE­BOGO MONAMA

THE GUPTA em­pire is crum­bling – day by day Fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions are dump­ing Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s friends. And their as­so­ciates in state-owned en­ter­prises are be­ing pushed out, while po­lit­i­cal pres­sure in­side and out­side the ANC is mount­ing against the con­tro­ver­sial fam­ily.

Yes­ter­day, Eskom sus­pended its chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cer, Anoj Singh, a Gupta as­so­ci­ate al­leged to have di­rected mil­lions of rand to the fam­ily.

This came hardly two days af­ter the Bank of Bar­oda cut ties with the fam­ily, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of Absa, Ned­bank, FNB and Stan­dard Bank.

The sus­pen­sion of Singh from Eskom is the lat­est twist in the string of Gupta-linked of­fi­cials fac­ing sus­pen­sion or leav­ing sta­te­owned en­ti­ties, which shows the Gupta em­pire is fall­ing apart.

His sus­pen­sion comes hot on the heels of the de­par­ture from Eskom of top of­fi­cials with Gupta links – for­mer chief ex­ec­u­tive Brian Molefe, for­mer board chair­per­son Ben Ngubane and an­other for­mer act­ing chief ex­ec­u­tive, Mat­shela Koko.

Koko is still on sus­pen­sion fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into al­le­ga­tions that his step­daugh­ter was in­volved in a busi­ness deal with Eskom worth R1 bil­lion.

Singh was im­pli­cated in wrong­do­ing in an in­quiry in Par­lia­ment by Outa (Or­gan­i­sa­tion Un­do­ing Tax Abuse). He al­legedly paid R495 mil­lion to the Gupta-linked com­pany, Tril­lian. Tril­lian Cap­i­tal Part­ners an­nounced it was cut­ting ties with Gupta ally Salim Essa over the scan­dal.

Par­lia­ment also warned yes­ter­day that Singh’s sus­pen­sion did not mean he was off the hook and that he will still be called to tes­tify in the in­quiry into state cap­ture at Eskom.

Par­lia­ment said it would also probe Transnet, Denel and other SOEs over state cap­ture al­le­ga­tions.

Act­ing chair­per­son of the pub­lic en­ter­prises port­fo­lio com­mit­tee, Zuk­iswa Ran­tho, said Singh was key to their in­ves­ti­ga­tion into state cap­ture.

She said they would still call Singh, Ngubane, Molefe and others im­pli­cated.

“The sus­pen­sion does not mean Singh will not be called. He will be called like others, in­clud­ing Brian Molefe and Ben Ngubane.

“We, as the com­mit­tee, will be fo­cus­ing on our terms of ref­er­ence and we will en­sure there is noth­ing that will dis­tract us,” said Ran­tho.

Pub­lic En­ter­prises Min­is­ter Lynne Brown also wel­comed Singh’s sus­pen­sion, say­ing it would al­low the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Eskom to go ahead with­out hin­drance.

“The board’s de­ci­sion paves the way for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to take place in a trans­par­ent way and en­sure con­fi­dence in the process,” Brown said.

“I have urged the board to ex­pe­dite the in­ves­ti­ga­tion to en­sure that the com­pany can con­cen­trate on its core man­date.

“A smooth-func­tion­ing Eskom is crit­i­cal to the coun­try’s econ­omy,” she added.

This came as Par­lia­ment al­layed fears that the com­mit­tee would not get re­sources for the in­quiry.

Chair­per­son in the Na­tional Assem­bly, Cedric Frolick, said it re­quired a se­nior ad­vo­cate to be ev­i­dence leader in the Eskom probe.

Singh’s sus­pen­sion came a few days af­ter the SA Coun­cil of Churches, the State Re­search Ca­pac­ity Project of lead­ing aca­demics and Outa pre­sented ex­plo­sive ev­i­dence in Par­lia­ment on Eskom and other SOEs on state cap­ture.

Outa said it wel­comed Eskom’s de­ci­sion to sus­pend Singh.

“Hope­fully we are turn­ing the cor­ner,” said Outa’s Ted Blom.

But he said there was still a lot of work to be done, adding that a cred­i­ble in­ves­ti­ga­tion was needed.

On the po­lit­i­cal side, Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa is lead­ing the charge from within the ANC against the Gup­tas, while the party’s al­lies – the SACP and Cosatu – have also turned up the heat on the fam­ily ac­cused of si­phon­ing bil­lions of rand from SOEs.

But ANC sec­re­tary-gen­eral Gwede Man­tashe said the party was not a law en­force­ment agency and can­not ar­rest mem­bers of the Gupta fam­ily.

Man­tashe said it was not up to the ANC to see to it that the fam­ily – which has been im­pli­cated in al­leged wide­spread cor­rup­tion – is ar­rested.

“The ANC is not a law en­force­ment agency. We raise the is­sues and throw them to the de­ploy­ees of gov­ern­ment and ask them to look into the is­sues,” Man­tashe said.

“I don’t want them to be ca­sual about the e-mails of the Gup­tas…

“We must deal with the is­sue holis­ti­cally. Where there are crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties, state in­sti­tu­tions must kick in and do their work,” he said.

He again ad­mit­ted that the links with the Gupta fam­ily have dented the party’s im­age, but said their in­flu­ence should not be over­es­ti­mated.

“When you ex­ag­ger­ate the sta­tus of a fam­ily and make ev­ery­thing about the Gup­tas, you may ac­tu­ally make them as­sume un­earned im­por­tance. We are deal­ing with the role of the fam­ily in that state cap­ture.”

Man­tashe said the Gup­tas were not a sub­ject of de­bate in ev­ery NEC (na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee) meet­ing, ar­gu­ing that the high­est de­ci­sion-mak­ing body of the or­gan­i­sa­tion could not meet “ev­ery day and reaf­firm our po­si­tion on the Gup­tas”.

It would be “ab­surd” for the ANC to set up a pri­vate army and round up the fam­ily, Man­tashe added.

CLOSE TIES: Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma with Atul Gupta. PIC­TURE: GCIS

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