Eskom’s former legal head Suzanne Daniels faced a grilling at the Zondo Commission on Tuesday after she disclosed that she continued meeting Gupta associate Salim Essa even after she turned down his alleged attempts to bribe her with R800 million.
She also described a meeting at Melrose Arch, at which Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma, and former minister Ben Martins were present.
Daniels served as Eskom acting head of legal and company secretary until she was fired in 2018 following a disciplinary hearing, in which she was found to be negligent in the signing of controversial contracts at the power utility.
Her testimony focused on her meetings with Essa, which she said were initiated by her then-boss Matshela Koko. The first meeting took place in March 2015, when Daniels said Essa introduced himself as then Public Enterprises minister Lynne Brown’s adviser.
The meeting took place at Trillion Capital’s offices at Melrose Arch.
She said that at this meeting, Essa told her that four Eskom executives would be suspended, including Koko, and an inquiry would be held at the state-owned enterprise.
The commission previously heard evidence from then Eskom board chairperson Zola Tsotsi that the board had decided on March 11, 2015, to suspend four Eskom executives.
Daniels met Essa again in 2017, and he questioned her about why she would not support Koko’s return to Eskom. Koko was suspended at the time. She said Essa then went on to offer her R800m to support Koko’s return.
Daniels said she refused the offer.
A fourth meeting took place in July 2017. She said Essa had called her to ask about former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe, who had been removed as chief executive and had been battling with Eskom in court over the payout of his pension funds.
Daniels said she agreed to the meeting because she was curious.
She said Essa took her to a townhouse at Melrose Arch, and present were Ajay Gupta, Duduzane Zuma, and Martins.
“I was in total shock at what I had walked into. Salim then said I must tell Ajay Gupta what was happening with Brian’s case. I just said we were going to see (the) Deputy Judge President (DJP) next week, and we would be discussing the case management of the matter.
“Mr. Gupta responded, not particularly to me, that we would need to find someone in the DJP’s office to move this case out. He then said this matter would be easier to deal with when Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma came into power,” Daniels testified.
Daniels said she feared for her life at that moment but also realised the power held by the Gupta family.
Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into state capture, told Daniels it could not have been curiosity that drove her to meet a man who had allegedly attempted to bribe her.
“I was curious. I could not understand why he wanted anything to do with me,” Daniels responded.
Advocate Pule Seleka, the evidence leader, put it to Daniels that there were two narratives about her, that she was a whistle-blower or was 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 responded: “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.”