South Africa

Days of Zondo

Spotlight on Matshela Koko’s chain of emails to a Gupta-linked address

Spotlight on Matshela Koko’s chain of emails to a Gupta-linked address
Matshela Koko at the parliamentary inquiry into alleged corruption at the power utility on January 24, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa. (Photo by Gallo Images / Sowetan / Esa Alexander)

Former acting Eskom executive Matshela Koko’s chain of emails to a Gupta-linked address were presented before Justice Raymond Zondo on Monday, but the power utility’s current chairman, Jabu Mabuza, wants investigators to have a word with 15 others, among them Brian Molefe, Anoj Singh, Trillian CEO Eric Wood, and whistle-blower Suzanne Daniels.

Former Eskom bigwig, Matshela Koko, allegedly wasted no time demonstrating his allegiance to Gupta Inc once he returned from a four-month-long suspension in 2015.

Koko is accused of sending nearly a dozen emails to an email address, one which is widely deemed to have been used by Gupta kingpin, Salim Essa, on his first day back in the office on 20 July of that year.

The information Koko allegedly fed through to the address [email protected] included a heads-up on an upcoming senior vacancy at Eskom, its response to National Treasury cost containment directives, and the company’s plans and budget for the training and retention of engineers that ultimately paved the way for a R1.6-billion deal involving McKinsey & Co and its partners, Trillian Capital Partners.

In addition, Koko allegedly shared useful details about an online vending deal for prepaid electricity; proof that Eskom intended punishing critical media, data about load shedding, and the lucrative commercial opportunities stemming from it.

Details of each of those dodgy emails were presented by current Eskom chairman, Jabu Mabuza, during his second day on the witness stand on Monday.

Koko resigned before Eskom could put him through a disciplinary hearing over allegations relating to the emails, a Dubai trip, having lied to Parliament, and his hand in a R1.7-billion guarantee to help the Guptas buy Optimum Coal Mine as well as a R600-million prepayment for coal to one of their companies.

He has since been protesting his “innocence” on social media, earning him the nickname “the Twitter Engineer”.

Mabuza testified that March to December 2015 was a key period in the capture of Eskom. In the midst of load shedding in March of that year, three Eskom executives, Tsholofelo Molefe, Tshediso Matona, and Dan Marokane were suspended, along with Koko.

Those suspensions, Mabuza said, had created a gap for the appointment of Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh.

Koko emails 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and more

Of the four executives suspended, Koko was the only one to return to Eskom and on the very day he resumed his duties, he allegedly sent his first mail to [email protected]. Eskom contends that the mail address belonged to, or was used by, Salim Essa.

On 20 July 2015, shortly before 8am, using his Eskom email address, Koko sent Essa a document about the cost containment directives of National Treasury to various public entities, Mabuza testified.

This 13-page document flagged “controlled disclosure document” and something for use only by designated officials, was among a string of documents Koko had allegedly shared with Essa in order to highlight commercial opportunities.

On the same day, Koko allegedly forwarded another document with the subject line “Top Engineers” and which contained Eskom’s agreed approval conditions and strategy to train and retain engineers.

Sent a mere minute after his first email, Koko allegedly armed Essa and, ultimately, the Guptas with the parastatal’s three-year budget for the project.

It is now known that they cashed in on this head start with the appointment of McKinsey and its supplier development partner, Trillian Capital Partners, a company in which Essa held a 60% stake until July 2017.

It was, in fact, a 2014 document, compiled by previous executives, and the project had somehow stalled but was, remarkably, resuscitated after Koko’s email.

These, Mabuza said, were confidential, internal documents.

And while the initial executives who had drawn up the document a year earlier had noted the need for compliance, there was later “wholesale non-compliance” in this deal once the take-over team had arrived on the scene, Mabuza said.

Their intention was never to comply. It was to create business opportunities for specific people, said Mabuza.

Other mails Koko shared included two others, on the same day (20 July):

  • A round-robin resolution of Eskom’s executive committee containing the company’s business case for the Top Engineers Programme. McKinsey and Trillian ended up raking in around R1.6-billion from this deal, and while the international consulting firm has repaid just short of R1-billion, Trillian’s portion remains unpaid, as Wood has until now challenged Eskom’s claim.
  • Koko sent another mail, dated 8 August 2015, with details of the online vending system for prepaid electricity, sharing with Essa a document that was scheduled to go to the Eskom Board 10 days later. In this mail, he wrote: “We did not finish our discussion about this transaction. This is what is going to the Board on August 18.”
  • This document, Mabuza said, contained commercially sensitive information relating to different Eskom suppliers for the vending transaction. The names of the suppliers were mentioned with the degree of charge-out rates and the estimation of contractual amounts. Asked why Koko would have sent this document, Mabuza, said: “It is in keeping with the activities of Koko’s activities. From the day he arrived back from suspension, he really was quite busy.”
  • In another mail, dated 30 September 2015, Koko forwarded Essa a document on an Eskom letterhead. It was a letter from the then chairman, Dr Ben Ngubane, to the then minister of public enterprises, Lynne Brown, in which Ngubane alerted Brown to the suspension of all commercial dealings with the Mail & Guardian newspaper, City Press and the Sunday Times.

The letter stated that the Board had resolved that Eskom suspends all commercial dealings with those publications pending the resolution of complaints various state-owned entities had against them.

Visas, Bali, Dubai

  • The name of the travel agency, Travel Excellence, is all over the #GuptaLeaks. And, rather unsurprisingly, the company also surfaced in Koko’s emails. In this case, Koko was copied on a mail from a travel agent who had written to [email protected] while copying Essa’s Gmail address on 22 December 2015. Your one visa is out,” the agent wrote.The trail continues, with Koko later sending the email, for printing, to a reception at the Grand Aston hotel in Bali, Indonesia, where he appears to have been on holiday.
  • A few weeks earlier, on 14 November, 2015, Koko penned a missive, not on an Eskom letterhead, in which he allegedly gave Essa loads of detail on load shedding, the findings of a previous Nersa inquiry into the causes of load shedding, and potential remedies.There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” Koko allegedly wrote as he shared his thoughts on how best to plan Eskom’s maintenance schedules, and concluding, “no doubt, the biggest game changer for dramatic reduction in load shedding has been the change in leadership.

    Going to the future, it is imperative that these traits be embedded in the organisation.”

    This, Mabuza testified, was again an example of Koko’s cushy ties with Essa as it demonstrated how he allegedly shared scope for available commercial opportunities with him.

  • There was another mail on 25 November, this time containing details of Eskom’s cost-plus-mine investments along with figures. In this mail, Koko allegedly wrote: “Give the boss please.”Mabuza, having just arrived at Eskom in January 2018, could not explain to the commission who “the boss” could have been.

The commission heard that Koko has his own version regarding the owner/user of the controversial email address that he so prolifically shared information with. He previously claimed that Suzanne Daniels, the former head of legal and acting company secretary, had given it to him for communication with the office of former chairman, Ben Ngubane.

Mabuza said Eskom is convinced the controversial email address belonged to Essa as it accepted the findings of the disciplinary hearing of Daniels.

Daniels unsuccessfully argued that the mail address belonged to former Public Enterprises DG, Richard Seleke.

Senior advocate Nazeer Cassim, who presided over Daniels’ hearing, rejected her claim, saying if that was the case, Seleke would have been entitled to Eskom information and there would have been no need for secrecy or a coded email address, Mabuza said.

Cassim also found that her claim that Ben Ngubane had told her it was Seleke’s mail could not be correct as Seleke only became DG in December 2016 whereas her email to infoportal1@zoho went back to June 2016.

Cassim found that the address, in all probability, belonged to Essa.

On Monday, the commission heard further incriminating testimony, based on the email evidence, about Daniels allegedly accepting input from Essa for the crafting of an official Eskom document.

Eskom round-robin resolution drafted by Trillian’

Other casualties of Eskom’s email exposé include former CFO, Anoj Singh, Trillian CEO Eric Wood, and former Regiments employee Mo Bobat, the man who served as former finance minister Des van Rooyen’s adviser.

Zondo commission heard how, through various emails, it could be shown that Trillian, even before its inception, allegedly drafted a round-robin resolution for Eskom about the sale of Optimum Coal on 8 December 2015.

This document, Mabuza testified, was sent by Trillian to Singh who then forwarded it to Koko saying, “Hi M (Koko). Please review revised submission, sign…”

This resolution was drafted outside Eskom and sent to Singh by one Faheema Badat, then in the employ of Regiments Capital but who was scheduled to join Trillian upon its establishment, weeks later.

The round-robin incident took place a day before former finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, was fired. Just 24 hours later, on December 10, there would be another mail, about Eskom’s plan to provide the Guptas with a R1.7-billion guarantee to help them raise cash for their acquisition of Optimum.

Singh sent details of Eskom’s engagement with the bank to formalise the paperwork for the guarantee to Wood at Trillian to “revise and advise”.

The guarantee was ultimately not effected, but Eskom did give the Guptas a R600-million prepayment for coal that helped them cover the shortfall on the purchase price for the mine.

The commission resumes on Tuesday with testimony by Daniel Mashigo, Eskom’s senior general manager of primary energy. DM


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