Coming soon to a theatre near you: ‘The hunt for Koko’

Coming soon to a theatre near you: ‘The hunt for Koko’
Former Eskom CEO Matshela Koko testifies at the State Capture Inquiry on 4 May 2021 in Johannesburg. (Photo: Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

Former Eskom CEO Matshela Moses Koko denies any wrongdoing during testimony at the Zondo Commission.

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Matshela Moses Koko took the prescribed oath and swore to tell the truth for the ninth time at the Zondo Commission on 19 May. Then the former Eskom executive continued to build a web of conspiracy – “the Koko hunt” – which includes the president and travel agents, former colleagues and friends, all trying to disgrace the power utility’s self-proclaimed saviour.

Koko worked at Eskom for 33 years before resigning in 2018. In 2015, he was appointed head of generation and briefly served as acting CEO. Evidence suggests he conspired with and benefitted from one of the Gupta family’s closest allies, Salim Essa.

“I always say, God is on the side of Moses,” Koko said during his first appearance at the commission in December 2020.

He appears to relish the opportunity to tell the true story of State Capture, often leading his own evidence in dizzying detail while dropping soundbites for viewers and media, exhausted after almost 400 days of the commission’s hearings.

“It cannot be that witnesses come here to mislead you and get away with murder. I come here to assist you to get to the truth,” he said on 4 May 2021, his sixth appearance.

In Koko’s world, he has a monopoly on truth. On 19 May, he accused the commission’s investigators of coaching travel agents who said Essa paid for his family’s overseas travels in January 2016. He has described former Trillian Financial Advisory CEO Mosilo Mothepu as one of the witnesses who “are blue-eyed boys and girls telling you something and you take it as a fact”.

At the start of each session, evidence leader Pule Seleka SC outlines the topics he intends to cover with Koko. They rarely get there as Koko introduces new testimony that Zondo patiently asks him to explain. While his testimony is often convoluted, Koko is essentially accused of helping the Guptas loot Eskom.

The story starts when Koko was suspended along with three other Eskom executives in March 2015. The plan was hatched at former president Jacob Zuma’s official Durban residence in a meeting including South African Airways chair Dudu Myeni, her adviser Nick Linnell and Eskom chair Zola Tsotsi. The suspensions opened the door for Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh’s moves to Eskom.

Eskom legal head Suzanne Daniels and former group head of capital, Abram Masango, who has been charged with corruption related to Kusile Power Station, have testified that two days before Koko was suspended they individually attended meetings with him and Essa at Essa’s Melrose Arch office. There they heard the plan to suspend the executives, with only Koko due to return. That’s exactly what happened.

“The monkey of a Melrose Arch meeting with Salim Essa, it did not happen. I did not know Salim Essa in 2015,” Koko testified. “I did not have a discussion with Mr Essa and Ms Daniels about the suspensions. I did not meet Mr Masongo at Melrose Arch.”

Koko has claimed Daniels, not he, was working with Essa, which she has denied. He accused her of working with Masango to campaign against him but multiple witnesses have corroborated evidence that Koko had prior knowledge of the suspensions.

Koko claimed he was suspended due to his fractious relationship with then-chair Tsotsi, who allegedly demanded he reverse the suspension of commercial general manager Malesela Sekhasimba. He never argued the point when he was suspended, which intrigued Zondo, but Koko claimed it was moot after the board accused him of sabotage and treason.

When Koko returned from suspension in July 2015, he started sending confidential Eskom information to the infamous [email protected] account, attributed to “Business Man”, which all evidence suggests belonged to Essa.

Koko said Daniels, who was then Eskom company secretary, gave him the email address to send documents for the attention of chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane, which she also denies. Daniels and Ngubane both claim to have got the email from each other. No one’s version about the email address appears to add up and Koko has been repeatedly questioned on the inconsistencies in his story.

Koko told the Eskom parliamentary inquiry he’d never emailed “Business Man”, which he had, but, he explained to Zondo, that’s because he didn’t associate the infoportal address with “Business Man”. He claimed that every time he sent a document, it would be on the table in meetings with Ngubane, proof that he had reason to believe Daniels was using the account on behalf of Ngubane.

But in December 2015, the day after the board agreed to make a R1.68-billion prepayment to the Guptas’ Tegeta Exploration & Resources to buy Optimum Coal, “Business Man” emailed Koko a revised document converting the prepayment into a guarantee. He sent it to Daniels who, on Koko’s version, likely already had access to the document.

This information is being twisted for the purpose of this commission and Mr Seleka is not going to intimidate me. I will not allow him to do that.

Such a document defining operational issues couldn’t or shouldn’t have come from Ngubane, and Zondo repeatedly asked why it didn’t make Koko question who was actually behind the email account.

During his appearances at the commission, Koko has shown himself to be fastidious and thorough. He regularly cites previous testimony from memory and has a clear grasp on the thousands of pages of Eskom-related evidence. But regarding the emails he sent to Essa, he claims he was too trusting of his colleagues and never noticed the red flags.

Koko thought it was odd when he received an email from the Infoportal address with visas for his family’s overseas travels in January 2016; but he didn’t pursue the matter. He claimed he paid Daniels R5,000 to organise visas for the trip and when he received them through the Infoportal address, he assumed Ngubane had somehow helped. Daniels has denied she moonlighted as a travel agent for Koko.

“What I wanted from this email was my visas and I got my visas and I sent them to the receptionist to go print. That is all,” Koko told the commission.

Travel agents Halima Allana and Sameera Sooliman from Travel Excellence testified this week that in December 2015, Essa asked them to book a return trip for Koko and two of his family members from Indonesia to Dubai and then to Johannesburg.

They said Essa paid R100,000 for the flights and visas. The commission has heard that Essa frequently used Travel Excellence to arrange trips for the Guptas, their employees and their alleged co-conspirators in government and state-owned entities. Koko said he paid R332,000 for the family trip, that Essa had nothing to do with it and argued that the travel agents’ documents were fraudulent. He said their testimony was part of the “Koko hunt” and that the commission’s investigators had coached the witnesses.

Trillian’s Mothepu has testified that Koko and Singh took leading roles in negotiating Eskom’s deals with global consulting firms McKinsey & Company and Trillian, owned by Essa. McKinsey has paid back almost R1-billion in the fees it was paid in the deals and Eskom has gone to court to recover around R600-million from Trillian.

“All these transactions that I am accused of doing the bidding for Mr Essa, guess who stopped them? Me,” Koko has claimed.

“Forget the gossips. Because Ms Mothepu had never given you anything, other than to simply say, ‘Trust me. Trust me, Chair. Trust me as Ms Mothepu. Mr Koko and Mr Singh negotiated this.’ It is all what she told you. Besides that, she gave you nothing.”

But when evidence leader Seleka presented documents suggesting Koko may have played an oversight role regarding Eskom’s negotiating team with McKinsey, the engineer dismissed it and reverted to victimhood.

“This information is being twisted for the purpose of this commission and Mr Seleka is not going to intimidate me. I will not allow him to do that,” he said.

For Koko, allegations that he furthered the interests of Essa and the Gupta family are a sideshow. Questioned about Eskom’s alleged attempt to make it impossible for Glencore’s Optimum Coal Mine to operate, driving the company into the Guptas’ hands, he repeated an argument from former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe.

They claim they defended Eskom as Glencore tried to extort the power utility, refusing to pay R2-billion in penalties and proposing to raise its coal price to a level that would have crippled the SOE.

Koko claimed Glencore leaders had dropped then-deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa’s name to get their way. Ramaphosa became Optimum chairperson in 2012 and divested his interest in 2014. Without producing evidence, Molefe and Koko claimed he tried to influence the negotiations with Optimum while he was head of the government’s Eskom war room in 2015.

Koko said Eskom indulged Optimum’s proposed demands but it eventually went into business rescue, threatening the SOE’s coal supply and the country’s electricity supply. “After they kicked me in the face, I showed them the middle finger,” Koko told Zondo.

This week, Koko said the commission has been questioning the wrong man, that it should rather focus on Glencore and Ramaphosa’s alleged corrupt behaviour.

While Koko, Molefe and Singh deny it, there’s substantial evidence to suggest they pressured Glencore into selling Optimum, with the help of former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who has been linked to multiple deals benefitting the Gupta family.

After the attempt to give a R1.68-billion guarantee fell through, Eskom facilitated the  purchase of Optimum with a R659-million prepayment, allegedly driven by Koko. Eskom and the Special Investigating Unit have launched a R3.8-billion civil claim against the Guptas and former executives, including Koko, related to the deal. Koko has defended the prepayment and maintained that he has always followed Eskom policy and acted within its regulations.

“The results in my time were the best,” said Koko in his first appearance at the commission, claiming that in 2015 Eskom was performing at levels not seen in over a decade. The evidence suggests Koko was successful, but not for Eskom or the country. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores.


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