Huge R36m fee paid to Gupta-linked firm leaves auditors sceptical
Neotel executives could not say what work they paid Homix for, Deloitte auditor Chetan Vaghela tells state capture inquiry
Deloitte auditor Chetan Vaghela told the state capture inquiry on Tuesday that an investigation had found that Neotel bosses breached their authority and did not act in the best interests of the company when they paid Gupta-linked letterbox firm Homix to secure a lucrative Transnet contract.
Vaghela was testifying about an audit conducted by Deloitte into a R1.8bn information and communications technology deal between Transnet and Neotel‚ which Homix allegedly facilitated for a R36m fee.
The commission previously heard evidence about how Transnet was a “captive client” and had no choice but to contract Neotel in 2014‚ but surprisingly withdrew from negotiations without giving reasons‚ leaving Neotel desperate to close the deal.
Just a day after Neotel signed with Homix‚ Transnet returned to the negotiating table and Neotel got the contract.
“We were quite sceptical about the nature of this vendor [Homix]. We had relied on the age analysis‚ inquiries made of finance staff and the vendor onboarding documentation … we wanted to understand the commerciality of the fees paid to Homix‚” Vaghela said.
He said the Deloitte team met Neotel executives Steven Whiley and Sunil Joshi in April 2015 — about four months after the deal was brokered — and both could not say what work they paid Homix for other than for it to secure the deal for Neotel.
“We were highly sceptical about the Homix transactions and we needed more evidence to support the fees paid. They [Neotel] couldn’t tell us what they specifically did other than resolving the impasse. They could never tell us who Homix dealt with at Transnet‚” Vaghela said.
After their initial investigation‚ Deloitte concluded that Neotel’s audit committee members were not fully aware of the Homix transaction. This formed the basis of Deloitte reporting its first irregularity around “the breach of authority and the directors not acting in the best interests of the company”.
“We have a statutory obligation to report matters where we have reason to believe that management has committed an unlawful act that would have resulted in material financial loss‚ or is fraudulent and amounts to theft or is in immediate breach of fiduciary duties. At this point‚ we had reason to believe that we had” a reportable irregularity.
Deloitte issued its first reportable irregularity to the Independent Regulatory Board for Auditors at the end of April that year.
“We articulated the success fee of R36m paid to the agent‚ we record that the commerciality of this transaction remains unclear‚ and we’re reporting that the contents of our investigation suggests that the Companies Act as well as the common law duty of the directors to act in the best interests of the company may have been breached‚” Vaghela said about the report.