Gupta associates ‘prepared media statements for Eskom’

Former Eskom board chairperson Dr Ben Ngubane appeared again at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

Zondo says it is remarkable that one of the statements talks about the resignation of former Eskom board chair Zola Tsotsi in anticipation.

Former Oakbay chief executive officer Nazeem Howa and Gupta business associate Salim Essa in 2015 exchanged via email draft media statements detailed “with remarkable precision” on issues of the Eskom board, the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture heard on Tuesday.

Former Eskom board chairperson Ben Ngubane appeared again before the commission chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, with the first part of his testimony on Tuesday mainly focusing on the said media statements dated 19 and 31 March 2015.

Zondo heard that Howa and Essa allegedly drafted a media statement which Ngubane would read out and issue on 31 March 2015 following the resignation of former Eskom board chair Zola Tsotsi on 30 March 2015.

Ngubane told Zondo that the board meeting of 30 March 2015 in which Tsotsi’s resignation as board chair and director was accepted ended “some minutes after midnight”.

Evidence leader Pule Seleka said it was “remarkable” that the media statement Howa and Essa exchanged on 31 March at around 7.46am, according to the time stamp, spoke of Tsotsi’s resignation and other matters discussed at the board meeting which ended at that time.

“It’s quite remarkable that this person the following morning knew something that happened so late,” Zondo concurred with Seleka.

Ngubane said at the time, information from the Eskom board “was leaking like a sieve”, with SMSes “doing the rounds”.

In his affidavit to the commission, Ngubane said he did not personally prepare the said statement but it was rather provided to him by Eskom’s secretary at the time.

Ngubane further states in his affidavit to the commission that he did not meet with Essa nor have a conversation with the Gupta business associate regarding Tsotsi’s resignation or any appointments of employees at Eskom.

Ngubane told Zondo that during a break of his session with Seleka and the commission’s investigators he had asked his legal representative to “scan” the media to find the statement he issued on 31 March 2015 but no statement was found.

“I never received this statement from Mr Howa directly,” Ngubane told Zondo, adding that he is not sure if it was sent to someone at Eskom’s communications department.

Ngubane said the media statement he had before him on 31 March 2015 was not the one Seleka presented before Zondo on Tuesday.

Zondo heard that Tsotsi’s removal from the board was formally introduced to the board at its meeting of 19 March 2015, the same day that Howa and Essa exchanged an email of a draft media statement mentioning the board’s acceptance of Tsotsi’s resignation.

Ngubane told Zondo that he was not aware of the email between Howa and Essa.

Seleka said it was exceptional that the person who wrote the draft media statement attached to the email of 19 March 2015 knew “with remarkable precision” about board matters and he asked Ngubane where the person had sourced the information enabling them to prepare such a detailed statement.

“Isn’t remarkable to you?” Seleka asked.

Zondo commented that it is “one of the remarkable things” that the media statement talks about Tsotsi’s removal in anticipation.

In response to Seleka’s question of how Howa and Essa could have known that Ngubane had been appointed acting chair of the Eskom board, Ngubane said: “The minute I was acting chairman, everybody knew, although the minister had not pronounced.”

Ngubane told Zondo that following the meeting of 19 March 2015, it had been widely reported in the media that the board had discussed Tsotsi’s removal.

The commission previously heard that Ngubane came to know Howa and Essa when Ngubane was still at the SABC. It also heard that in 2013 Ngubane and Essa entered into a partnership which later failed.

The commission also heard that Ngubane came to know members of the Gupta family during his time at the SABC and that he had received invitations to the Gupta compound in Saxonwold, some of which he acceded to, as well as that he attended the Gupta wedding in Sun City, North West.

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