Gama “had no idea” Essa had a finger in most parts of the irregular locomotive deal

Former Transnet chief executive Siyabonga Gama on Friday told the Zondo commission he had no idea that Salim Essa had a hand in most aspects of the logistics company’s disastrous R54-billion deal to acquire 1 064 locomotives to refurbish its freight fleet.

Evidence leader Anton Myburgh presented Gama with the outcome of an investigation that showed R122-million of R189-million paid in advisory fees to Trillian on the China Development Bank loan, which in part financed the acquisition, in the end flowed to the Gupta family’s Sahara Computers.

“It was laundered into Sahara Computers,” said Myburgh, who has described Essa as the Gupta brothers “money-laundering lieutenant”.

He said the evidence of money flows on the deal submitted to the Zondo commission showed that Essa received 50% of all advisory fees that were paid to Regiments for services linked to the flawed locomotive deal. 

Some of this went into “laundry payments to Gupta companies”, Myburgh said.

He added that Iqbal Sharma, who at the time chaired Transnet’s board tender committee, had “a matrix of business relationships” with Essa, who was involved in negotiating a commission for the Gupta-linked Tegeta.

Essa was also involved in a business development service agreement with China South Rail [CSR], which was to supply 359 electric locomotives.

“The investigation has shown so far that CSR made kickback payments of $123-million to Gupta-linked entities. Can you comment on that?” Myburgh asked.

Gama replied: “I don’t know anything about that.”

Myburgh asked of Essa’s pervasive involvement: “Do you see that common denominator or thread?”

Gama said he was not aware of Essa’s role. Myburgh followed up by pointing out that Gama had met Essa in Dubai in January 2016, during a weekend spent at the five-star Oberoi hotel.

Myburgh then noted that Gama’s reservation at the hotel appeared, according to information drawn from the Gupta leaks emails, to have been handled by Sahara Computers.

Moreover, Gama signed an acknowledgment at the hotel that he was responsible for the bill should Sahara Computers fail to settle it.

He said he was not aware that this was indicated above his signature, and insisted that he paid the bill.

He has acknowledged that Essa helped him with his hotel reservation but denied that he knew or knew of Ashu Chawla, the chief executive of Sahara Computers, to whom confirmation of the reservation was sent.

Earlier this week former Transnet chief financial officer Anoj Singh was confronted with similar evidence that Sahara Computers paid for his visits to the Oberoi.

Like Gama he insisted that he paid his own bill, in this case in cash.

Last month, Transnet asked the high court to set aside four contracts concluded in 2014 to acquire the locomotives because tender rules and Transnet policy were deliberately ignored in negotiating these.

On Friday, Gama denied that he was intricately involved in negotiating the loans linked to acquisition, casting his role as chief executive as being at arm’s length.

“The raising of those loans, I was not involved. My role would probably be at the tail end, insignificant, there isn’t anything much I did … maybe you will see my signature on one or two documents. I really just came in at the tail end when people have negotiated.”

Gama also denied knowing that Trillian played no role in securing a R12-billion club loan that financed part of the deal, according to recent evidence to the commission, although it earned R93-million as a lead arranger.

On Monday, Gama denied evidence by his former driver at Transnet that he, Gama, received R1-million in cash from Essa, collected in a parking lot  in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. According to the driver, identified as Witness 2, there were three cash payments from Essa to Gama.

Gama told the commission: “It never happened.”

On Friday, he confirmed that in 2015, he signed an agreement with the Jacob Zuma Foundation to donate R500 000 towards a youth day event in Durban but said he was out of the country at the time and another official in the company attended the event.

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