The Gupta empire is crumbling – day by day financial institutions are dumping President Jacob Zuma’s friends. And their associates in state-owned enterprises are being pushed out, while political pressure inside and outside the ANC is mounting against the controversial family.
On Thursday, Eskom suspended its chief financial officer, Anoj Singh, a Gupta associate alleged to have directed millions of rand to the family.
This came hardly two days after the Bank of Baroda cut ties with the family, following in the footsteps of Absa, Nedbank, FNB and Standard Bank.
The suspension of Singh from Eskom is the latest twist in the string of Gupta-linked officials facing suspension or leaving state-owned entities, which shows the Gupta empire is falling apart.
His suspension comes hot on the heels of the departure from Eskom of top officials with Gupta links – former chief executive Brian Molefe, former board chairperson Ben Ngubane and another former acting chief executive, Matshela Koko.
Koko is still on suspension following an investigation into allegations that his stepdaughter was involved in a business deal with Eskom worth R1billion.
Singh was implicated in wrongdoing in an inquiry in Parliament by Outa (Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse). He allegedly paid R495 million to the Gupta-linked company, Trillian. Trillian Capital Partners announced it was cutting ties with Gupta ally Salim Essa over the scandal.
Parliament also warned on Thursday that Singh’s suspension did not mean he was off the hook and that he will still be called to testify in the inquiry into state capture at Eskom.
Parliament said it would also probe Transnet, Denel and other SOEs over state capture allegations.
Acting chairperson of the public enterprises portfolio committee, Zukiswa Rantho, said Singh was key to their investigation into state capture.
She said they would still call Singh, Ngubane, Molefe and others implicated.
“The suspension does not mean Singh will not be called. He will be called like others, including Brian Molefe and Ben Ngubane.
“We, as the committee, will be focusing on our terms of reference and we will ensure there is nothing that will distract us,” said Rantho.
Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown also welcomed Singh’s suspension, saying it would allow the investigation into Eskom to go ahead without hindrance.
“The board’s decision paves the way for the investigation to take place in a transparent way and ensure confidence in the process,” Brown said.
“I have urged the board to expedite the investigation to ensure that the company can concentrate on its core mandate.
“A smooth-functioning Eskom is critical to the country’s economy,” she added.
This came as Parliament allayed fears that the committee would not get resources for the inquiry.
Chairperson in the National Assembly, Cedric Frolick, said it required a senior advocate to be evidence leader in the Eskom probe.
Singh’s suspension came a few days after the SA Council of Churches, the State Research Capacity Project of leading academics and Outa presented explosive evidence in Parliament on Eskom and other SOEs on state capture.
Outa said it welcomed Eskom’s decision to suspend Singh.
“Hopefully we are turning the corner,” said Outa’s Ted Blom.
But he said there was still a lot of work to be done, adding that a credible investigation was needed.
On the political side, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading the charge from within the ANC against the Guptas, while the party’s allies – the SACP and Cosatu – have also turned up the heat on the family accused of siphoning billions of rand from SOEs.
But ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said the party was not a law enforcement agency and cannot arrest members of the Gupta family.
Mantashe said it was not up to the ANC to see to it that the family – which has been implicated in alleged widespread corruption – is arrested.
“The ANC is not a law enforcement agency. We raise the issues and throw them to the deployees of government and ask them to look into the issues,” Mantashe said.
“I don’t want them to be casual about the e-mails of the Guptas
“We must deal with the issue holistically. Where there are criminal activities, state institutions must kick in and do their work,” he said.
He again admitted that the links with the Gupta family have dented the party’s image, but said their influence should not be overestimated.
“When you exaggerate the status of a family and make everything about the Guptas, you may actually make them assume unearned importance. We are dealing with the role of the family in that state capture.”
Mantashe said the Guptas were not a subject of debate in every NEC (national executive committee) meeting, arguing that the highest decision-making body of the organisation could not meet “every day and reaffirm our position on the Guptas”.
It would be “absurd” for the ANC to set up a private army and round up the family, Mantashe added.