Turning a blind eye to state capture
Transnet CEO defends the Gupta family, saying the allegations against them are nothing more than ‘alternative facts’
Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama has fired a furious broadside against those linking Africa’s largest transport company to shady deals involving the Guptas.
Last year, Transnet’s relationship with the Guptas was flagged in public protector Thuli Madonsela’s "state of capture" report. It revealed that in 2016, Transnet paid R167m to Trillian Asset Management, a small asset manager controlled by long-time Gupta business partner, Salim Essa.
Trillian was paid to "structure" a multibillion-rand loan needed to buy locomotives — a deal for which there appeared to be little justification.
Speaking to the Financial Mail at the Africa CEO Forum in Geneva last week, Gama became increasingly defensive when asked about this relationship.
"We’ve never seen any share certificate of Trillian that says Trillian is owned by any Gupta family members. I don’t know because I live in the practical and real world," he said.
Essa is a part-owner of a number of Gupta enterprises, and has been painted by many as a stalking horse for the influential family.
But Gama defended the Guptas too, slating many of the allegations against them as "alternative facts".
"I am not aware that as we sit here today there is any member of the Gupta family who has been criminally convicted and therefore requires to be blacklisted and must not do any business with anyone," he said.
Yet the evidence in Madonsela’s report, as well as the fact that the banks chose to close the Gupta accounts based on moneylaundering concerns, would suggest there is enough to warrant a more circumspect approach.
Gama rejects this: "If you come to me and say here is anybody, whether Gupta or anyone, who has been criminally convicted, we will not do business with them. Show me the evidence."
He added: "But the Guptas don’t do any business with Transnet anyway so I don’t even know why we’re having this discussion."
His response echoes that of former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe, who said the Guptas had been smeared by "gossip and innuendo", and found guilty only by a kangaroo court.
Molefe, however, was dealt a severe blow by Madonsela’s report, which revealed he claimed to be a "very good friend" of the family, which had scored suspicious coal contracts for which they had been prepaid upfront.
Madonsela’s report cited news reports detailing how Essa profited from lucrative Transnet contracts, even though he was allegedly a former business partner of the family of Transnet’s then-chair, Linda Mabaso.
She said a deeper probe into Transnet’s links with Essa and the Guptas would "form part of the next phase of the investigation".
However, in November, Transnet axed its involvement with both Trillian and Regiments Capital, another company linked to the Guptas. At the time, Gama said a continued relationship was "no longer in our interests".
But the allegations aren’t confined to Madonsela’s report. Last year, amaBhungane reported that Homix, a letterbox company, made millions on apparent kickbacks from companies doing business with Transnet.
Telecoms operator Neotel, for example, is said to have paid Homix in the tens of millions to close Transnet deals worth R2bn.
Asked about this, Gama shot back: "There is a lot of perception and sentiment. What is the issue? Is there something you know that I don’t?"
But the sentiment remains unhelpful to Transnet, which
has been painted as terminally captured by those close to the Gupta family.