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Eskom questions BEE credentials of Gupta-linked Trillian

Oct 12 2017 18:12
Paul Burkhardt and Sam Mkokeli, Bloomberg

Johannesburg- Eskom has questioned the black economic empowerment credentials of McKinsey’s South African partner, Trillian Capital Partners, as it demanded that the US consultancy return R1bn despite assurances by the state power utility that National Treasury had approved the contract.

“Trillian was a broad-based black economic empowerment partner/supplier development partner to McKinsey under the 2015 contract,” Eskom’s lawyers said in a letter to McKinsey and Trillian seen by Bloomberg. “At the time payment was claimed and made, Trillian had no black ownership.”

Trillian disputed this assertion.

Eskom is at the centre of allegations that the Gupta family used their relationship with President Jacob Zuma to win lucrative contracts from state-owned enterprises. The Guptas and Zuma have denied any wrongdoing.

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. The SA government has enacted empowerment laws compelling state companies to ensure suppliers have black partners.

“Trillian had at least 60 percent black economic empowerment at all times for the duration of the Eskom contracts,” Trillian said in an emailed response to questions. “Salim Essa, a black South African, held 60 percent of the total issued share capital in Trillian from November 2015.”

BEE partner 

Documents seen by Bloomberg show that Eskom had in 2015 told officials at the consultancy that it had clearance from National Treasury to sign the contract. Trillian, McKinsey’s black empowerment partner in the deal, has also been asked to return money to the utility.

Eskom has suspended officials because of their conduct around the signing of contracts including the one with McKinsey, saying they misrepresented information.

Interim findings of investigations by the utility “have demonstrated unequivocally that certain decisions which Eskom took, and payments which were made to McKinsey and Trillian in 2016 and 2017, were (amongst other things) unlawful,” Eskom’s lawyers wrote to the US consultancy and its development partner Trillian in a letter dated October 4.

McKinsey on Tuesday said it’s willing to repay the fees if a court finds the payments were illegal.

A July 2015 review of an Eskom steering committee meeting held to discuss the McKinsey contract, showed that assurance was given by Eskom that “National Treasury approved confirmation of the contract methodology for the risk based approach with the chief procurement officers office,” according to a document outlining the proceedings that was seen by Bloomberg.

Committee members included senior executives from Eskom, McKinsey and Trillian.

“Discussions are ongoing and therefore we are not at liberty to divulge any further details at this stage,” Eskom said in a response to questions.

McKinsey declined to comment while the Treasury didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Payments made to McKinsey based on the 2016 contract could also be unlawful because the about R540m in down payments were “well in excess of what had been authorized on 21 October 2016 by the Eskom Board Tender Committee,” according to the letter.

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