/ 7 December 2018

Eskom sweats as Trillian buys time

Eric Wood had meetings with Siyabonga Nene about buying 70% of Brakfontein Coal Mine.
Eric Wood had meetings with Siyabonga Nene about buying 70% of Brakfontein Coal Mine. (Paul Botes/M&G)

A delay in Eskom’s battle to claw back the millions of rands it lost to Gupta-linked Trillian could further hurt the ailing power utility, the high court in Pretoria heard this week.

On Wednesday, Eskom’s case to set aside decisions that led to almost R600-million being paid to Trillian was postponed until March 2019. This is after the court allowed the consulting firm to file new evidence more than a month after its papers were supposed to be finalised.

In an affidavit opposing the application, Eskom’s chief operating officer, Jan Oberholzer, emphasises the importance of a speedy resolution to the matter, saying the parastatal is at pains to reassure international investors that it can recover the money and address its legacy of corruption.

“The swift return of the almost R600-million that was unlawfully paid to Trillian would assist in Eskom’s broader efforts to repair its balance sheet and to recoup the losses from almost a decade of mismanagement,” Oberholzer says. “This money ultimately belongs to taxpayers and the electricity consuming public.”

Eskom first brought its application to the court in March. The entity is seeking to undo the decisions taken by former board members and executives that resulted in R1.6-billion in allegedly unlawful payments being made to McKinsey and Trillian.

Since 2016, Trillian has fielded allegations of profiting from state-owned entities, allegedly because of its ties to the Gupta family.

McKinsey agreed to pay back R902-million to Eskom in July. But Trillian remains dogged in its opposition, and its chief executive, Eric Wood, has claimed the consulting firm had earned the money it received.

In what Eskom has deemed a delaying tactic, Wood filed a 307-page affidavit at the end of November, which argues why his legal team needs more time to consolidate evidence he says would refute allegations that Trillian offered no value to Eskom.

In the affidavit, which has more than 900 pages of annexures, Wood says Eskom chief executive Phakamani Hadebe’s replying affidavit “is replete with allegations of corruption and malfeasance” against Trillian, which elicits further dispute.

Hadebe’s affidavit was filed at the end of August.

Wood also says compiling his evidence has been difficult, partly because he has been left to tackle the case alone. “The great majority who have relevant information have deserted me and I have been doing my utmost to access documents to defend the unfounded allegations in the replying affidavit.”

The new evidence he has found “will assist in meeting the plethora of allegations” levelled by Hadebe.

In court on Wednesday, Trillian’s counsel, Mike Hellens SC, reiterated the complexity of the case, saying it is “fraught with disputes of fact”, which remain to be addressed.

But Eskom’s counsel, Tembeka Ngcukaitobi, argued that Woods offers no new information in his plea. “There is no reason that Trillian should keep holding on to money that belongs to the public.”