Analysis on steroids
22 January 2018 21:40 (South Africa)
SCORPIO

Scorpio: Trillian operation shrinks amid R1.6-billion letter of demand from Eskom

  • JESSICA BEZUIDENHOUT
    JESSICA BEZUIDENHOUT
  • SCORPIO
Photo: Ajay and Atul Gupta. Photo: Muntu Vilakazi/Gallo images

Staff numbers have dwindled from 80-odd in its heyday to just a handful of mainly support staff sparking concern of reduced commercial activity that could impact on the company's ability to pay back Eskom. By Jessica Bezuidenhout for SCORPIO.

In the face of multiple criminal investigations and a steep letter of demand from Eskom, the Gupta-linked Trillian Capital Partners appears to be on its knees.

Its reputation in tatters, the snazzy operation at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg has shrunk substantially in recent months, bringing into question the company’s capacity to engage in any meaningful commercial activity – and its ability to pay back its portion of the money it allegedly unlawfully received from Eskom.

Trillian and global consulting firm McKinsey & Co were given a 10 October deadline to repay almost R1.6-billion in payments it had received from Eskom through irregular and non-existent contracts. 

While Trillian has consistently denied that it was a “Gupta company,” it’s majority shareholder since inception was Salim Essa, the right-hand man of the controversial family. Essa owned 60% of Trillian Capital Partners through his company, Trillian Holdings until his departure in July.

Daily Maverick has established that executives and staff have either resigned or taken “generous” mutual separation packages of three months' salary, which came into effect at the end of August.

The company, in response to questions, said on Friday that it was not shutting shop. “On the contrary, the company remains opens for business. Trillian is “trading,” and remains a “going concern,” the statement read.

Daniel Roy, a former shareholder of Trillian Capital Partners is among those who have exited the embattled company.

Daily Maverick has confirmed that he is no longer a shareholder nor an employee of Trillian Capital Partners and that he has acquired the original asset management division of TCP – the company is made up of a basket of subsidiaries.

A receptionist answering the telephone at the company on Friday morning said that two directors, Tebogo Leballo and Faheema Badat, had “left last month”. Attempts to reach the two were unsuccessful and Trillian said it could not comment on individual cases as it had a duty to protect the privacy of former staff.

“Trillian is not at liberty from both a labour relations perspective, in the interests of protecting the personal information of staff, and from a compassionate perspective to speak of the hardships endured by a number of qualified young black professionals as a result of the onslaught of articles and speculation in the media,” the statement read.

A former senior employee confirmed that he left in July after taking up the company’s offer of a mutual separation package.

A specialist in his field, this former employee who is not being named to protect him from a confidentiality contract he signed, said as far as he was aware, “around 30 or so others left around the same time”.

Another former employee said he too was aware of several other colleagues who left Trillian after the release at the end of June of Advocate Geoff Budlender’s report.

Budlender had been hired to conduct an investigation into allegations of State Capture and claims that some of the company’s executives had had prior knowledge that President Jacob Zuma was going to fire former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and that they had planned to cash in on this information.

His damning report provided further evidence of an off-the-book arrangement between Trillian and McKinsey that allowed the local company to be paid a portion of the lucrative R1.6-billion Eskom deal in the absence of a contract.

Trillian and McKinsey were both issued with lawyer’s letters from Eskom demanding repayment of the money earlier this month.

McKinsey, after concluding its own investigation into the scandal, released a statement on Tuesday saying it would put aside the money made from Eskom for repayment in the event a court ruling invalidated its contract.

However, Trillian told Daily Maverick on Friday that it had not received any legal action from Eskom insofar as the “partnership” with McKinsey was concerned. “Moreover the only correspondence received by Trillian from Eskom’s representatives is that Eskom has not yet completed its investigations and that the findings are not yet complete.”

Eskom had not responded to official questions about the claim against Trillian and McKinsey by deadline, but the power utility’s now-suspended legal head, Suzanne Daniels confirmed that a letter of demand had been delivered to Trillian.

Trillian has consistently denied any wrongdoing but the company has been drawn into a string of criminal investigations opened by among others, civic organisation, Outa, the Democratic Alliance and more recently, labour federation Saftu (SA Federation of Trade Unions).

Saftu, representing around 700,000 union members, submitted a dossier of what it billed “evidence” to the police and the Hawks and asked that the authorities urgently investigate Trillian and some of its directors.

In a statement in support of the case, Saftu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi said information already in the public domain indicated a clear and compelling case of criminal wrongdoing on the part of Trillian and some of its directors in respect of its dealings with Transnet and Eskom.

The company also faces a R500,000 defamation lawsuit brought by a former executive who spilled the beans on Nene-gate when she submitted a statement to the Public Protector last year. The company is challenging the case and is due to file responding papers shortly. DM

Photo: Ajay and Atul Gupta. Photo: Muntu Vilakazi/Gallo images

  • JESSICA BEZUIDENHOUT
    JESSICA BEZUIDENHOUT
  • SCORPIO

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