South Africa

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amaBhungane: Key findings from Budlender’s damning Trillian dossier

amaBhungane: Key findings from Budlender’s damning Trillian dossier

Geoff Budlender, the advocate appointed by former Trillian chair Tokyo Sexwale to probe “state capture” allegations against the company has delivered a damning report, despite what he characterises as Trillian's attempts to shut down his probe and starve it of information. Here are the highlights. By AMABHUNGANE.

Trillian Capital Partners, the group holding company, is 60% owned by Salim Essa, whom Budlender described as “very closely associated with the Gupta family”.

Sexwale resigned from the company yesterday after tabling the Budlender report at a packed media briefing at Trillian’s chic Melrose Arch office.

Budlender reported:

On Eskom

  • Trillian invoices showed that Eskom paid Trillian more than R250-million, directly contradicting statements by Eskom and public enterprises minister Lynne Brown, who is accused of misleading Parliament.

  • Trillian had not tendered for this work and had no formal contract with Eskom. Trillian refused to provide Budlender with information on what work it did to justify these fees, on the basis that this was “not relevant” to his inquiry.

  • A Trillian whistle-blower told Budlender most of the work identified in the invoices had already been completed by another firm prior to the formation of Trillian. She added that Eskom needlessly outsourced work that Eskom staff themselves were able to carry out.

  • When the whistle-blower expressed concern about losing Eskom work, Trillian chief executive Eric Wood allegedly told her he would speak to Eskom financial director Anoj Singh and “Mr Singh would appoint Trillian”.

On Transnet

  • Last year amaBhungane reported Transnet paid Trillian R93-million for arranging a so called “club loan” – packaging a number of different lenders together – but Trillian had not actually done the work.

  • Now Budlender records that the whistle-blower confirmed Trillian played no role at all in putting together the Club Loan. Trillian did not disclose this invoice to Budlender but he sourced a bank statement reflecting a credit of R93,480,000.00 on 4 December 2015.

  • Budlender notes that Trillian’s lack of co-operation and his inability to compel disclosure meant he was not able to analyse the relationship between Trillian and Transnet properly, but “questions need to be asked and answered with regard to Transnet invoices that appear to be missing, or duplicated, or in respect of work which Trillian did not itself do”.

On Optimum Coal Mines

  • Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found in her State of Capture report that Trillian had contributed more than R235-million to the Guptas’ purchase of Optimum. Trillian denied any such payment.
  • But Budlender found bank statements that showed that on 14 April 2016, an amount of R160,246,000 was withdrawn from Trillian’s current account with the Bank of Baroda. This was the very day on which the payment for Optimum had to be made. When Budlender asked for documentation showing where this money had been directed, Trillian refused to provide this information.

  • Budlender also notes: “Trillian denies that it has any link with the Guptas… (but) there is no apparent reason why Trillian, a company owned by South Africans and conducted in South Africa, and which asserts that it has no link with the Guptas, would want or need an account with a bank in India.

On the dismissal of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015

  • Budlender’s probe was launched on the back of a Sunday Times report based on a confidential statement the Trillian whistle-blower provided to the Public Protector. In it, she alleged that Wood, the Trillian chief executive, was aware in October 2015 that Nene would be fired. Wood denied this.

  • Budlender now reveals the whistle-blower also alleges that on 9 December 2015, the morning after the President had replaced Nene with Des Van Rooyen, she went to Wood’s office. “She said to him, ‘So you were right’, and he said ‘Of course I was’,” Budlender reports.

  • Budlender prefers her version to Wood’s. He notes that the easiest way for Wood to have corroborated his version was to give Budlender access to his electronic devices, which would record emails and text messages and his diary appointments. “Wood and Trillian refused to provide them to me, in my opinion for no good reason.”

  • Trillian management had conducted itself during the inquiry in a manner that Budlender found to be untrustworthy, making promises of co-operation, but instead blocking the investigation repeatedly, He notes: “The most likely explanation is that it was concerned… with what would emerge if it disclosed the truth… By contrast the whistle-blower “struck me as a straightforward person, who was anxious to make full information available to the inquiry. She answered directly any questions which were put to her.”

On a commission of inquiry

  • Budlender concludes that his inquiry has revealed matters of great public concern, which need to be investigated by by an entity which has the power to subpoena testimony and documentation. He says his findings should form part of the commission of inquiry mandated by Madonsela’s State of Capture report.

  • He notes: “The reason why this should be done urgently is that there is ample evidence in the public domain that malfeasance is continuing. Investigating and dealing with this is not only a matter of accountability for what has already happened — it is a matter of putting a stop to
    wrongs which are currently taking place.”

Trillian’s response:

In a statement issued shortly after the Sexwale press conference, Trillian said the company had not been given an opportunity to comment on the report despite a request for Budlender to postpone his report in order to give Trillian an opportunity to respond.

“Nonetheless, Trillian will consider all of the allegations contained therein, many of which appear to be incorrect… Once Trillian has had an opportunity to consider the contents of the report, it will release its own comprehensive response.” DM

The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism  is an independent non-profit. Be an  amaB supporter  to help it do more. Sign up for  its newsletter  to get more.


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