Ajay and Atul Gupta File picture: Independent Media
Parliament - Parliamentarians are pushing for law enforcement agencies to investigate the possibility that the Guptas are selling their assets as part of a plan to skip the country.

On Wednesday, MPs raised concerns about the Guptas’ hasty selling of their business assets in the wake of the state capture probe and five banks dumping them.

The Star also understands that the SA Revenue Service (Sars) will also look into the transactions.

This comes after Gupta-owned Oakbay Resources announced on Wednesday that it had sold its mining company Tegeta Exploration and Resources to Swiss-based Charles King SA for R2.97billion.

The sale was announced two days after the Guptas sold their 24-hour news channel ANN7 and The New Age newspaper to their close ally, Mzwanele Manyi, for R450 million.

Five local banks and the Bank of Baroda have dumped the family, raising suspicion that the sale of assets was part of a scramble to obtain banking services.

On Wednesday, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan told The Star that MPs had “raised concerns about these sales as they are in the public interest”.

He directed further questions to Parliament’s public enterprises portfolio committee acting chairperson and ANC MP, Zukiswa Rantho.

The committee was investigating allegations of state capture, which involved coal contracts awarded to Tegeta by Eskom.

In an explosive affidavit earlier this year, Gordhan reportedly revealed how R6.8bn in “suspicious and unusual transactions” may have contributed to the country’s major banks closing accounts associated with the Guptas.

Rantho told The Star that the issue of the family selling its assets was indeed raised informally following a committee meeting in Parliament on Wednesday.

“The suspicion was that they are selling their companies because they are leaving the country. But at this stage, we haven’t got anything concrete that they are planning to leave the country,” she said.

“The suggestion was that we should ask for information from our law enforcement agencies on how real the threat is of them leaving the country. We assume that they want to leave. However, we are going to continue with the inquiry on them; there is nothing stopping us at this stage,” said Rantho.

The inquiry would look into allegations of corruption involving the Guptas in major state-owned entities, such as Eskom.

It also intended to call the Gupta brothers, Atul, Ajay and Tony, to answer allegations that they circumvented legal processes to benefit their companies in the awarding of tenders.

Former Eskom acting chief executive Matshela Koko awarded Tegeta Exploration and Resources a R7bn coal contract without a tender in August last year, according to investigative journalism unit AmaBhungane.

Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown has asked the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to look into Eskom procurement deals dating from 2007 onward.

Brown’s spokesperson Colin Cruywagen referred questions to Eskom.

Eskom spokesperson Khulu Phasiwe said the current contracts with Tegeta “remain in force irrespective of who they sell their coal mines to”.

“In other words, the conditions of the current contracts in relation to coal volumes, quality, prices and duration will remain unchanged. The only change will essentially be around ownership, not the contracts. The SIU and parliamentary investigations are not in the hands of Eskom. Eskom will co-operate with the investigators when these investigations get under way,” said Phasiwe.

The Department of Mineral Resources said it had been informed by Oakbay Investments of Tegeta’s sale.

“The department welcomes the undertaking to save employees’ jobs in Tegeta’s various operations.

“The department continues to work with all stakeholders on the stability and sustainability of the industry, and welcomes all initiatives by current and potential investors to curb job losses,” the department said in a statement.

“The purchaser has committed to a minimum level of 30% BEE compliance. The transaction will be concluded in line with provisions in the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act,” it added.

The Competition Commission had not responded to emailed questions at the time of publication.

The National Treasury said it was not involved in the sale.

Sars said it had a 24-hour turnaround time to process queries.

Oakbay acting chief executive Ronica Ragavan said: “The sale of Tegeta represents a further step forward in delivering our strategy of preserving jobs by securing the future of the businesses we have developed and grown.

“Tegeta is a strong business and the Charles King company will be an excellent new owner. We wish both of them well for the future.”

The Guptas’ lawyer, Gert van der Merwe, could not be reached for comment.

When selling their media assets, the Guptas had said in a statement: “The sale will also allow the shareholder the time to focus on clearing its name in the face of unfounded media allegations.”

Charles King SA’s owner, Amin Al Zarooni, said opportunities in mining in South Africa were extremely attractive and that they had been looking for a long time to invest in the country.

“And once we have bought the business we will, of course, be looking for a black economic empowerment partner.

“Mining is an excellent growth sector on the continent, and with this acquisition, our expansion plans on the African continent kickstart,” he added.

The Star