Whistleblower outlines Eskom’s guide to milking state enterprises

Trillian CEO Eric Wood (left) knew the day that former finance minister Nene would be fired and he made millions, said whistleblower at Eskom enquiry (Paul Botes/M&G)

Trillian CEO Eric Wood (left) knew the day that former finance minister Nene would be fired and he made millions, said whistleblower at Eskom enquiry (Paul Botes/M&G)

Former Trillian adviser to Eskom Mosilo Mothepu stood before the parliamentary enquiry into Eskom on Tuesday and said that the state utility not only lied about its connection to the Gupta-owned company Trillian, but said the advice Trillian gave Eskom was not worth the R600-million it paid.

She also detailed how Trillian chief executive Eric Wood made hundreds of millions off finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s firing in 2015.

In Parliament on Tuesday, Mothepu said that Transnet was another state-owned entity that Trillian Capital Partners “milked for at least R112-million”.

Mothepu confirmed that the same method at Transnet was used for Eskom and across other state entities such as Denel, SA Express, Transnet and Eskom.

Transnet board member Stanley Shane was also a member of Trillian Capital and, according to Mothepu, Shane received R700 000 a month as a Trillian board member.

Trading-off on Nene’s axing

Mothepu said that she would remember October 26 2015 as the day Wood told her that Nene would be fired.

“I didn’t understand the significance of this. We never dealt with national treasury,” said Mothepu.

“I didn’t ask him how he knew. Later that morning he emailed me a word document that essentially outlined the new initiatives that the new minister would be implementing, which would give business to Trillian.”

According to Mothepu, Mohamed Bobat was appointed the new advisor to Des van Rooyen, Nene’s weekend successor, to channel all the work from state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and treasury to Trillian.

“Eric Wood spent the whole day with the minister and Mohammed assisting him in his new role,” she said.
“Wood appointed a PR company to write the new minister’s speeches.”

Improper relations

Suspended chief financial officer of Eskom Anoj Singh “was very close to Eric from the Transnet days,” Mothepu told Parliament.

“I would categorise it as improper relations.” she said.

Mothepu alleged the relationship was especially improper because Wood did not have the correct skills to work in the public sector.

According to Mothepu, Singh gave Trillian information on Eskom so that McKinsey, Regiments and Trillian could win Eskom’s tender.

Not only was information handed out to win tenders, but employees were moved strategically to enable state capture. Mothepu said that it was only later that she realised that there were ulterior motives to move Singh and former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe from Transnet to the power utility.

“Transnet and Eskom are the largest SOEs with the largest budgets. With Anoj Singh and Brian Molefe with Regiments and McKinsey getting big fees, they identified that the next cash cow was Eskom,” she said.

“The same modus operandi with cash confinement with big cash and fees was supposed to occur at Eskom,” she continued. “It hit a spanner when McKinsey had to change its supplier partner.”

READ MORE: Eskom CFO Anoj Singh axed, sort of

Duvha Claim

In 2016, after working as the head of the Eskom unit for four months, Mothepu noted discrepancies and shared them with the then Public Protector Thuli Madonsela. However, after a Sunday Times exposé in 2016, Eskom denied “the work Trillian had done with the Duvha boiler and the China Bank loan and denied the R600-million payment”.

Duvha is a coal-fired power plant that experienced an explosion in 2014 when an over-pressurised boiler furnace shut down the 600MW unit. In order to repair the electrical plant, Trillian advised Eskom to take a tender from the Chinese firm Dongfang. According to a KPMG audit, Eskom gave Donfang an additional R600-million to secure the R4-billion tender for a new boiler.

Mothepu said: “Eskom said it does not have a contract with Trillian, which is true. They said we did not work on the transactions, which is not true. They denied making a payment, which is not true.”

Mothepu’s testimony can be confirmed by several investigations that the Mail & Guardian and amaBhungane made last year.

READ MORE: Ugly truth about ‘Gupta company’

When the M&G spoke to Eskom about its work with Trillian, the utility denied Trillian’s involvement in the Duvha claim, calling the allegations “baseless and factually incorrect” because Eskom would not employ a “middleman” to act between itself and potential suppliers.

Trillian also denied working with Eskom over the claim.

An interim report by Eskom and G9 Forensic found McKinsey and Trillian, a company linked to the Guptas, made R1.6-billion in fees and was expected to make another R7.8-billion.

In September this year, Eskom confirmed that these payments were unlawful and asked McKinsey and Trillian to return R1-billion and R564-million respectively “which appears to have been unlawfully paid out in 2016 and 2017”.

READ MORE: Eskom’s ties to Gupta-linked Trillian exposed

‘Something very perverse’

Mothepu worked as a debt capital market specialist and adviser at Regiments from 2007 to 2010.

Mothepu returned to Regiments as a “senior resource” to lead the Eskom team. In hindsight,  Mothepu believes her services were “used for something very perverse”.

From March 1 2016, Mothepu was made a chief executive of Trillian Financial Advisory. By June 22 2016, she had resigned as chief executive and on June 27 2016, she had resigned as director after she noticed tender irregularities with Trillian and Eskom.

Trillian has charged Mothepu and since her resignation, she has been pursued by the NPA and Hawks. She said that she has been deemed a political risk and corporates refuse to work for her. Mothepu has subsequently been unemployed for the past 16 months.

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie

Gemma Ritchie works in the Mail & Guardian's online department. She majored in English Literature at a small liberal arts college in the USA.  Read more from Gemma Ritchie

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