Carol Paton Writer at Large
Energy minister Jeff Radebe. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
Energy minister Jeff Radebe. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

The Central Energy Fund, government’s energy holding company, remains troubled by internal conflict following the sudden dismissal of its chair on Friday, after allegations that he solicited a bribe from a global oil trader Vitol.

The controversy around Luvo Makasi comes as a forensic investigation into the illegal sale of SA’s strategic fuel stocks in December 2015 is at last reaching finality and as the Hawks launch a criminal investigation into the sale.

The sale of the strategic stocks lies at the centre of much of the ongoing intrigue at the Central Energy Fund. The stocks, which comprised 10-million barrels of crude oil held by the state to ensure energy security, were sold far below the prevailing market price and without the necessary permissions by Central Energy Fund subsidiary the Strategic Fuel Fund.

Three large companies — Dutch firm Vitol; Swiss firm Glencore, which partnered with Venus Trade, and Nigerian company Taleveras — bought the oil in a closed tender process.

The stocks, which remain in tanks at Saldanha, are the subject of a court application before the Western Cape High Court. The Central Energy Fund wants the transaction declared illegal and set aside. Makasi has been accused of approaching Vitol with an offer to drop the litigation in return for a large payment.

On Friday, Vitol confirmed that its representatives had met Makasi several times but said it “would be inappropriate for Vitol to comment on the substance of conversations with any of its counterparties.”

The allegations of the meeting reached minister of energy Jeff Radebe 10 days ago when they were widely circulated in political chat groups. Radebe then asked Makasi to explain why he should not be fired.

In his response to Radebe, Makasi denied the bribe allegations, arguing that they were fabricated to smear him following his deposition of an affidavit to the Hawks on the sale of the strategic stocks.

In a statement on Sunday, Radebe’s office said that “serious allegations were discussed with Mr Makasi on March 8 and put to him in writing on the same day. He responded on March 11.  Having considered Mr Makasi’s written response the minister on March 15 wrote to Mr Makasi removing him from the Central Energy Fund board.”

Makasi, who said he had resigned on Friday prior to being fired, said on Sunday he stands by his submission to Radebe and denies the allegations. He said he hoped the matter would be “investigated to its logical conclusion”.

In his affidavit to the Hawks, Makasi pins the illegal sale of the strategic stocks solely on then CEO Sibusiso Gamede. Makasi claims that Gamede acted alone without the knowledge of involvement of any of his fellow directors and that he misled then energy minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson that he received the necessary board approval for the sale.

Quoting from the forensic investigation of sale carried out by Gobodo, he also fingers Gamede as the sole recipient of kickbacks from the traders.  Gamede did not respond to an opportunity to comment on the allegations.

The Gobodo investigation is not yet fully complete as certain key players were not interviewed on the basis that “they could not be found”. These include Joemat-Pettersson and her former chief of staff Garrith Bezuidenhoudt, who remains an employee of the department.

Strategic Fuel Fund chair Neville Mompati said the Strategic Fuel Fund board had asked Gobodo to complete these interviews “as everybody knows where these people can be found”.