Former Eskom director, Viroshini Naidoo denies role in state capture
Viroshini Naidoo broke down as she spoke about the hurt that news reports about the politically connected Gupta family had caused her
The Eskom board was asked to approve the multimillion-rand prepayment to the then Gupta-owned Tegeta Resources even though the value was below the board’s delegation of authority, a former board member told Business Day.
In an interview with the Tiso Blackstar group Viroshini Naidoo broke down as she spoke about the hurt that news reports about the politically connected Gupta family had caused her.
She denied being a "Gupta link" and spoke out strongly against state capture allegations levelled against her.
Naidoo said her life had been difficult since allegations emerged that she, as a member of the Eskom board, had signed off on deals that ultimately benefited the Gupta family.
Naidoo agreed to the interview with the group to settle a Press Ombudsman complaint about a report on June 7 in the Times ("Jobs for Gupta pals: the Gigaba-Brown link revealed"), which centred on appointments to the boards of state-owned entities Transnet and Eskom.
Since then, new information has emerged showing that Naidoo had in fact questioned a multimillion-rand prepayment from Eskom to Tegeta.
Now she hopes to clear her name soon. Naidoo has been called to give evidence in September before the portfolio committee on public enterprises, which is looking into maladministration, governance problems and procurement issues at the power utility.
Naidoo was appointed to the Eskom board by Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown in 2014. She resigned in July 2016.
Her name first appeared in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report, which said that Albatime, a company owned by Naidoo’s husband, Kuben Moodley, had contributed R10m to the Guptas’ purchase of Optimum Coal.
It is an allegation they have both repeatedly denied.
Naidoo said that she and her husband had never been contacted or given an opportunity to respond to the allegations in Madonsela’s report and that she had been desperately waiting for the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture to clear her name.
While a member of the Eskom board, which collectively signed off on deals relating to the Gupta family business, Naidoo’s husband was a special adviser to Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane. However, Naidoo said that at material times she recused herself from projects involving mining to avoid creating a conflict of interest. "If Madonsela had contacted me I would have explained all this and given her all the documents to prove it," she says.
"This entire situation has destroyed my reputation both professionally and personally."
Naidoo showed The Times parts of minutes of meetings where she had asked to be recused from meetings where tenders relating to coal supply contracts were discussed.
"We [the board] did what we thought was in the best interest of the company. Unfortunately, Thuli Madonsela never spoke to any of us. She doesn’t know that. SA all believes we signed off on these deals and we were doing it for the benefit of the Gupta family or destroying Optimum Coal, which is absolutely the most bizarre thing....
"I believed honestly I was doing the right thing as a board member, working hard to make things right," she said.
Naidoo’s version has been corroborated by new e-mails the Financial Mail has brought to light. According to the magazine, the e-mails show Naidoo had raised concerns over the R660m prepayment to Tegeta. The prepayment was said to have bolstered the Guptas’ purchase of Optimum, and not meant to ensure the supply of coal for Arnot power station.
Naidoo revealed that the tender committee, which she sat on, was told less than an hour before of an urgent meeting to discuss the prepayment.
"I honestly thought this prepayment was going towards buying coal," she said.
Her numerous questions regarding the prepayment were sent to the entire tender committee as well as former head of generation Matshela Koko.
Naidoo said her concerns were addressed during a late night teleconference with the tender committee on April 11 2016 and again two days later at a formal board meeting.
Minutes from the April 11 meeting show most of the meeting was spent discussing questions she had raised. Her evidence indicated that at least one board member was concerned over the prepayment, which was previously not known.
"You guys have been targeting the wrong people," she said.
"These allegations over the board has destroyed careers."
Board spokesman Khulani Qoma has told the Financial Mail that Eskom believed Madonsela was "procedurally unfair" in expecting the entire board, including former directors, to respond in five days.