South Africa’s anti-graft ombudsman has found Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown inadvertently misled parliament about contracts that existed between the state-owned power utility and a company linked to the Gupta family, and has given President Cyril Ramaphosa 14 days to take action.
“By inadvertently misleading parliament, Minister Brown violated” the executive ethics code, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said in a report posted online.
In June last year, the anti-graft ombudsman started a probe into Brown after website amaBhungane reported power producer Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. paid Trillian Capital Partners Pty Ltd. 266 million rand ($22 million) in fees even though the existence of a contract had been denied.
Trillian, a financial-services firm, is linked to the Gupta family through business associate Salim Essa, who was its principal shareholder until he sold out in July.
According to the information the minister received from Eskom, no payments were made, “but it subsequently emerged that Eskom had indeed made payments to Trillian,” the Department of Public Enterprises said in a statement on Thursday.
“When I became aware that senior Eskom officials deliberately misled me, I immediately informed parliament’s ethics committee and the Public Protector of the false information,” Brown said in the statement.
“I instructed Eskom’s board to take disciplinary action against those who conspired to mislead me, parliament and the country,” she said. “After the Eskom, Trillian incident I instructed the department to strengthen oversight mechanisms to avoid a repeat,” said Brown.
Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta have been accused of using a friendship with former President Jacob Zuma and a business relationship with his son Duduzane to try and influence cabinet appointments and secure lucrative state contracts.
None of the siblings appears to be in South Africa and while the state has moved to prosecute Gupta associates in the days since Zuma was ousted, it’s unclear how the country will recover the billions of rand that are allegedly missing. Zuma and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing.