Daniels details meeting with Salim Essa, battles to explain her role in Gupta operation
Johannesburg – Former Eskom company secretary Suzanne Daniels battled to answer questions on why Gupta associate Salim Essa entrusted her with knowledge of a plot to suspend four Eskom executives in March 2015.
Daniels took the stand on Tuesday and appeared overwhelmed as she struggled to align her evidence at the Zondo commission.
Daniels was fired by Eskom in 2018 over her involvement in signing off on Gupta-linked contracts.
She testified that on March 10, 2015, she was asked by her former boss, Matshela Koko, to meet him at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg. She said she did as she was told and drove there.
She said Koko did not tell her where to meet him and what the meeting was about.
The two met at a restaurant and then proceeded to walk to an office block not too far away, where they entered a reception area and her phone was taken from her.
Koko and Daniels then went into a boardroom and waited.
A few minutes later a man appeared who introduced himself as Salim Essa and that he was then public enterprises minister Lynne Brown's adviser. She said this surprised her as she never heard of him.
"Then this gentleman walks in and introduces himself as Salim Essa and that he is an adviser to Minister Brown. I was surprised because I had not heard of him before.
’’I looked at Koko and he sat there comfortably. Essa then asked me what we need to do if we want to suspend executives.
"I told him that you need a good reason to suspend people. He then sketched out that in the coming days four executives would be suspended.
’’At this point, I looked at Matshela Koko and he was unfazed. Essa then told me that there would an inquiry at Eskom and that certain people will not return.
’’At that stage, I was quite shocked, even though I was a senior manager, I was not exposed to these types of machinations," she said.
Daniels said Koko later walked her out of the meeting room and she drove straight home.
The inquiry previously heard evidence from former Eskom board chairperson Zola Tsotsi that the board had decided on March 11, 2015, to suspend four Eskom executives along with Koko.
Tsotsi said that decision to hold an inquiry into Eskom and suspend executives was plotted at former president Jacob Zuma's residence in Durban on March 8, 2015. Present at the meeting was former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni and Zuma, who both supported the idea and told Tsoti to take the resolution to the board.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo noted that Daniels had never mentioned this meeting in her affidavit provided to the commission. He asked her why.
Daniels said as she was preparing for her appearance, she then went through notes she had compiled and remembered this meeting with Essa and Koko.
Zondo was also interested in why Daniels did not interrogate Koko on the basis for the meeting.
Zondo: "Did you ask him (Koko) why he brought you here?"
Daniels: "I did ask him Mr Chairman, but he just shrugged me off."
Zondo: “What was your thought on why you were brought there?’’
Daniels: "I was not told why I was brought there. It was difficult to conclude why I was brought there.".
Advocate Pule Seleka, the evidence leader, put it to Daniels that there were two narratives about her – that she was a whistleblower or complicit in the corruption at Eskom.
Seleka said one could conclude that since she was called to a meeting with Essa, then she could be perceived as being trusted by the Gupta associate to keep the information confidential.
Daniels said she was unable to reconcile why she was trusted to be part of such a meeting, but insisted she was not a Gupta operative.
"I cannot give you a reason why they would trust me. There has been this theory that I was part of it.
’’I would urge you to look at the Gupta operation, I was not offered bags of cash, I was not invited to any of their functions.
’’So it is something that I also do not understand why that would have been blatant".