Transnet scandal: Ex-Gupta man shows his hand

The Neotel building in Midrand. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The Neotel building in Midrand. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

When Neotel’s board commissioned a law firm in April to investigate tens of millions in fees – apparent “kickbacks” – to letterbox firm Homix, one Ashok Narayan emerged from the woodwork.

Narayan claimed he was Homix’s chief executive and, it is said, attempted to convince investigators that it had provided Neotel with services commensurate with the fees.

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Narayan appears to be a man of some dexterity. His LinkedIn profile identifies him as the managing director of a Dubai company, the Marketing Quotient, since April 2014 – a clear overlap with his stated position at Homix.

He is also a man of some connectivity. A 2013 LinkedIn profile, which went offline in recent days, identified him as the then managing director of Sahara Systems, a business owned by the influential Gupta family.
Before that, he held the same position at Sahara Computers in Botswana.

In June 2013, when amaBhungane visited the controversial Vrede Dairy in the Free State, also linked to the Gupta family, Narayan was known to farmers in the area as someone associated with the dairy and who had bought cows for it.

Linkway Trading, a Gupta company in which Narayan was a director, had been a “project consultant” for the dairy in its early stages, the family confirmed at the time.

Overseas ‘at the moment’
Now the Guptas have distanced themselves from their association with Narayan – and from Homix.

Family spokesperson Gary Naidoo said: “We can confirm that Mr Narayan was employed by Sahara Systems, but left our employ three years ago. He also resigned any directorships within our group of companies three years ago. We can also state categorically that no executive within our company has any relationship with Homix.”

When amaBhungane visited the Sahara offices this week, a security guard was familiar with Narayan’s name but said he had not seen him for some months.

A Sahara executive accepted an envelope on Narayan’s behalf, promising to scan and email the contents. He said Narayan was overseas “at the moment”.

AmaBhungane also visited the Dubai offices of the Marketing Quotient, the company Narayan’s LinkedIn profile says he manages. It appears to do sales for Etisalat, one of two mobile phone providers in the United Arab Emirates.

Aman Berlashker, whose business card describes him as “vice-president – sales”, did not appear to know his managing director very well. He said Narayan was in South Africa the previous week and was currently in India.

Narayan did not respond to requests for comment through the company. – Additional reporting by Louise Redvers in Dubai

* Got a tip-off for us about this story? Email amabhungane@mg.co.za

The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit initiative to develop investigative journalism in the public interest, produced this story. All views are ours. See www.amabhungane.co.za for all our stories, activities and sources of funding.

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