Mark Pamensky, a former board member at Eskom and Gupta-owned Oakbay, advised his Gupta colleagues to negotiate an effective discount of almost R2bn when they bought Glencore’s Optimum Coal in 2015.
Pamensky, who recently quit from both Eskom and Oakbay, was intimately involved in brokering the Optimum deal and advised the Guptas to ensure that they did not pay a R2.1bn fine imposed by Eskom on Glencore.
The fine — levied after a contractual dispute over a coal supply agreement — broke the back of Optimum and forced the owner, Glencore, into a sale, ultimately secured by Gupta-owned Tegeta. Pamensky’s activities raise questions about a conflict of interest.
Although he did not sit on Eskom’s board tender committee, leaked e-mail correspondence shows that he was involved on the side of Tegeta in advising the Guptas against paying the fine.
The payment of the fine would have benefited Eskom, whom he also represented at the time. The fine was subsequently reduced to R255.4m, with generous terms for paying it off, after the Guptas took over the mine.
"As I’m at the tailend of the main acquisition of Optimal [Optimum] Coal, please ensure that a condition precedent is that the R2bn claim from Eskom is withdrawn or it becomes the seller’s problem," Pamensky said in an e-mail to Atul Gupta in November 2015.
"I’m happy to get involved to assist with this acquisition and monthly monitoring/analysing of all investments from today. I can meet anyone you require. If you need me in India or Dubai to discuss, I’ll meet you there," he wrote in the e-mail. The deal was closed a month later.
Speaking to The Times, Pamensky denied any wrongdoing but did not explain why he had advised the Guptas to ensure that they did not pay the R2bn fine. "During my term at Eskom, I was not part of the board tender committee, never had any involvement with matters pertaining to the Optimum Coal acquisition, nor did I participate in any procurement in relation to coal," he said.
"Eskom’s management team attended to all matters relating to Optimum Coal…. I would like to again emphasise the fact that I, at all times, disclosed all perceived conflicts of interest with Eskom," he said.
Leaked Gupta e-mails reveal that Pamensky became involved in the Optimum Mine deal and met Glencore’s former director in SA, Clinton Ephron, as part of negotiating for the Guptas.
The Guptas were also helped by Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane when he facilitated the negotiations with Glencore in Zurich in November and December 2015.