Anoj Singh

Parliament - Absa has disclosed that Eskom's suspended chief financial officer, Anoj Singh was with a business associate of the Gupta family when he negotiated a bank guarantee in favour of Tegeta Exploration, one of the companies at the centre of a probe into corruption at state-owned enterprises.

Ntuthuzelo Vanara, the evidence leader in the parliamentary inquiry into Eskom, said CEO of Barclays Africa Maria Ramos had given this information in reply to a question from a member of Parliament's portfolio committee on public enterprises, which is conducting the probe.

He quoted Ramos as replying that an Absa representative was on a phone call with Singh in December 2015 when he "understood that Eric Wood from Regiments was with him".

Vanara put the information to former Eskom board member Viroshini Naidoo, who was party to the late-night decision to approve a payment of more than R600 million to Tegeta that helped it to buy the Optimum coal mine that belonged to Glencore.

Naidoo told the inquiry that she sought and was given assurances that the prepayment was not designed to assist Tegeta but to secure coal for Eskom as a matter of urgency to avoid further load-shedding.

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"It made no sense for me when we were so financially distressed of us making prepayments to anybody. I was convinced that we needed this coal, that it was an absolute necessity... I was given the impression that Tegeta was now controlling the mine," she said.

She said she had asked why the money was going to Tegeta, instead of the business rescue practitioners handling negotiations around the distressed mine, because she wanted assurances that Eskom would not run the risk of losing the money.

Naidoo said she was "horrified" when she heard about the guarantee. 

"I do not understand how that could have happened because the board did not authorise a guarantee."

Other witnesses have confirmed that the prepayment was equal to the sum Tegeta was short of the R2.7 billion purchase price of the mine, and that banks had refused to extend the sum to the company at short notice, days before the sale in April 2016.

Naidoo, a corporate lawyer, was grilled extensively by MPs about a conflict of interest in that her husband is an advisor to Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who was linked to the deal by former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela 

Naidoo said after this was in the public sphere, she asked the board to recuse her from certain deliberations. She became emotional when African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) Steve Swart asked whether she believed she was compromised by knowing the Gupta brothers' close associate Salim Essa socially.

"Mr Essa is not a friend of mine. It is really unfair to assume that I am captured," Naidoo said.

She said she was testifying before the committee to clear her name amid the allegations that the Eskom board had allowed funds from the cash-strapped utility to flow to the Guptas's business empire.

The inquiry was expected to hear testimony from former CEO Brian Molefe on Tuesday evening. Molefe was, like Singh, seconded from Transnet to Eskom, with the narrative that the company needed their expertise to deal with load-shedding and its balance sheet woes.

Singh admitted in July that he had signed a letter committing Eskom to guaranteeing and standing surety for R1.6bn on behalf of Tegeta in December 2015. He said the guarantee expired without ever being utilised.