Ben Ngubane. Picture: THE TIMES
Ben Ngubane. Picture: THE TIMES

Former Eskom chairman Ben Ngubane sought to blacklist newspapers that published stories critical of the power utility.

This is revealed in an explosive draft report obtained by Business Day into allegations of looting at Transnet and Eskom commissioned by Treasury.

The report, produced by Fundudzi Forensic Services, provides a devastating picture of the Gupta-linked network’s five-year looting spree at the state entities.

Its interim findings detail how procurement rules were flouted at Transnet to award a series of suspect train deals to China South Rail worth R25bn.

The Gupta leaks revealed that these contracts resulted in suspected kickbacks of R5.3bn being earmarked for Gupta-linked companies in Dubai and Hong Kong.

The Treasury’s draft report cites suspicious payments to former Transnet and Eskom chief financial officer Anoj Singh, and instances when global consultancy McKinsey arranged his trips to Europe, Dubai and Russia before being awarded lucrative contracts by Transnet and Eskom.

The report also reveals that Ngubane wrote a letter to former public enterprises minister Lynne Brown headed "Suspension of contact in any form whatsoever and/or commercial relationship with the Mail and Guardian, City Press and the Sunday Times".

The letter was dated September 30 2015 and forwarded by former Eskom executive Matshela Koko to a suspected Gupta conduit on the same day.

Gupta-owned mines

At the time the newspapers were publishing damning reports on the special treatment Gupta-owned mines were receiving from Eskom and on Gupta-linked kickback allegations involving Transnet.

Ngubane informed Brown that Eskom was "experiencing a similar trend as the Transnet example" and had resolved to "suspend any dealing" with the publications, "be it the placement of advertising, or any commercial relationship" pending the outcome of complaints the parastatals had lodged against them. The Treasury-appointed investigators had asked Ngubane if Eskom’s decision to blacklist the newspapers was aimed at shifting the power utility’s advertising budget to the Gupta media company.

He described the charge as "preposterous".

The investigators found that Koko, who quit the utility under a cloud in February, had forwarded Ngubane’s letter on the same day to the e-mail address infoportal@zoho.co.za.

E-mails contained in the Gupta leaks had revealed that sensitive Eskom documents had been sent from Koko’s private Yahoo account to infoportal@zoho.co.za, which used the name Business Man, and were forwarded to Tony Gupta and Gupta executive Ashu Chawla.

Following a recent investigation, Eskom concluded that Business Man was likely to be Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa.

Koko has denied sending the e-mails that landed up with the Guptas and claimed his private Yahoo account was hacked.

He told Business Day on Monday he had sent Ngubane’s letter to infoportal@zoho.co.za, but claimed the address had been given to him by Eskom’s former head of legal, Suzanne Daniels, to provide "day-to-day" information to Ngubane. Daniels has denied this.

This tallies with the response he provided to the investigators, who questioned why Koko would need to send Ngubane’s own letter back to him. "We find Koko’s statement in this regard improbable," they concluded in the report.

Asked about this, Koko told Business Day the investigators had failed to take into account that he had wanted to engage Ngubane on the blacklisting decision, of which he had been critical. Ngubane did not respond to a request for comment.

The draft report flagged several instances where procurement rules were flouted at Eskom and Transnet.

In one case, China South Rail won a contract despite being disqualified for failing to submit a black empowerment certificate after the criteria were amended. In another, an irregular R1.3bn advance payment was made to China South Rail for a contract that cost Transnet over R509m more than a rival bid would have. China South Rail won the largest slice of the 1,064 locomotives tender, whose price tag jumped from R38.6bn to R54.4bn without board or ministerial approval, even though it should have been disqualified for failing to submit local content documents.

Several officials implicated in the report have yet to respond to the investigators.

stephanh@businesslive.co.za