For three years, former Transnet chief financial officer (CFO) Anoj Singh had no need for his Transnet salary to pay living expenses, the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture heard on Friday, 23 April 2021. He claimed that he used savings accrued in other bank accounts.
Singh also told commission chair Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that he never called the Guptas’ close associate Salim Essa, or received calls from him, and denied testimony before the commission that he had attended meetings with Essa.
In a day of hearings which started an hour late and were cut short at about 3.30pm after Singh requested an adjournment due to what Justice Zondo stated were reasons related to Singh’s health, there were a number of times when evidence leader advocate Anton Myburgh seemed barely able to contain his incredulity at Singh’s explanations related to evidence placed before him.
One particular occasion, during which even Justice Zondo expressed amusement, related to Singh’s stated management of his own finances: Singh, who served as CFO at Transnet from July 2012 to July 2015 before being seconded to Eskom, was a person of interest in the Fundudzi Forensic Services’ investigations into allegations of irregularities at Transnet and Eskom. The Fundudzi investigations were commissioned by National Treasury, and Singh’s personal bank accounts came under scrutiny.
Using bank statements uncovered by Fundudzi, Myburgh referred Singh to a First National Bank account that Singh had opened on 6 July 2012, which corresponded to his appointment as Transnet CFO, and into which his salary as CFO was paid.
Singh affirmed all deposits into that account were either salary payments or other forms of remuneration from Transnet or, later, Eskom.
Singh concurred that he did not utilise his Transnet remuneration for daily living expenses or utility payments, resulting in the accumulated balance as of October 2015 when he left Transnet, being over R19,8-million (R19,884,811.32).
During this three-year period, outflows from the account totalled R594,596, of which R450,000 was to another of Singh’s own bank accounts at Absa.
Asked how he paid for his day-to-day expenses during this period, Singh responded that his lifestyle was funded by his other bank accounts. “How is it that you were funding your day-to-day expenses and your lifestyle?” asked Myburgh.
Singh replied: “The commission has access to a number of my bank statements, not just this bank statement, and it is concerning for me to be asked this question given the fact that you have access to these other bank statements, because these other bank statements would reflect that my lifestyle was funded from these bank statements.”
When Justice Zondo pressed him to reveal the source of this funding, Singh said: “Well again Mr Chair, it’s again concerning that having analysed this account in the detail that you have, having access to the bank statements that we now know you have, that the commission doesn’t have an answer to that question.”
Chuckling, Justice Zondo asked whether that meant he was not going to answer the question, with Singh responding that the money in his other accounts came from remuneration from Transnet before he was appointed CFO.
Thus, Justice Zondo ascertained, Singh was living off his savings. This was “testament to the fact that I had a savings culture”, said Singh.
This led Myburgh to drill into the fact that the First National Bank account in which he accumulated almost R20-million over three years, paid no interest on the amount, with Singh explaining that he let the money accumulate in a low interest-bearing account because, “for personal reasons”, he needed to have immediate access to the money, which would not be possible with a high interest-bearing account.
Myburgh corrected him, saying that the account did not pay low interest, but rather that it paid no interest – he could have kept his money in a low interest-bearing savings account and still have had immediate access to it.
He then brought to Singh’s attention that in 2016 he had then moved R16-million from that account into a money market account that earned him interest of almost R100,000 a month.
Singh said that the zero interest in his First National Bank account was likely what prompted a private banker to suggest he shift his money to an interest-bearing money market account.
It was at this point Myburgh struggled to contain himself, saying: “Mr Singh, you were the chief financial officer at Eskom, I meant Transnet, yet you needed a private banker to tell you? I mean, really.”
Singh’s legal representative, advocate Annelene van den Heever interjected: “Chair, is that a question or a statement, or what is my learned friend trying to do?”
Justice Zondo responded that Myburgh was “quite entitled to put what he’s putting to Mr Singh”, adding, “but what do you say Mr Singh? He’s saying [that] you’re so highly qualified in finance, how could you have to wait to be advised by a private banker to put your money into an interest-bearing account?”
Singh’s explanation was that it was his impression his money had been sitting in a relatively low interest-bearing account but in fact it was earning no interest, “so Mr Chair, that would be my reason”.
As to why he needed access to such a large sum of money, Singh asked to submit an affidavit to that effect to avoid airing his personal affairs in public. Justice Zondo said he would not guarantee the affidavit would be kept confidential, but would decide once the commission had considered it.
Shortly thereafter Van den Heever called for a short adjournment. Upon resumption of the hearings, Justice Zondo announced the commission would adjourn for the day due to Singh’s health issues.
Earlier in the day, before getting into his bank accounts, Singh repeatedly denied having met Essa, who is known to have facilitated deals for the Gupta family. This was in direct contradiction of testimony presented to the commission by Hatch managing director Henk Bester and former Transnet CEO Siyabonga Gama.
Singh also claimed that he never knew Essa was a major shareholder of Trillian, which was McKinsey’s BBBEE partner, until McKinsey informed Eskom that it was terminating its relationship with Trillian due in part to Trillian being unable to present its BBBEE credentials.
Regarding a High Court case which ordered Trillian to pay back almost R600-million to Eskom and that he was one of the officials found to have a corrupt relationship with Trillian, Singh denied he was one of the officials referred to.
He also denied the court’s findings that he had benefited from all expenses paid trips to Dubai on Gupta firm Sahara’s account.
The commission continues hearings on Monday, 26 April, with Gama reappearing on the stand. A date for Singh’s return is yet to be determined. DM