POLITICS

Nene-gate: Trillian CEO Knew Six Weeks Before Finance Minister Was Sacked

"The day the announcement was made, and the rand was crashing, he apparently made hundreds of millions of rands," whistle-blower reveals.

31/10/2017 14:40 SAST | Updated 31/10/2017 15:27 SAST
Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, who was fired in December 2015. It has been claimed at a parliamentary inquiry into state capture that Eric Wood, consulting company Trillian CEO Eric Wood knew about the sacking six weeks before it happened.

Consulting company Trillian CEO Eric Wood knew six weeks before it happened that former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was going to be fired, members of parliament (MPs) heard on Tuesday.

Responding to questions during the fourth session of the parliamentary inquiry into state capture at Eskom and other parastatals, capital market specialist and former Trillian senior manager Mosilo Mothepu told members of the public enterprises portfolio committee she had heard about it from Wood on October 26, 2015.

Nene was sacked by President Jacob Zuma on December 9 that year, and replaced by little-known ANC MP David van Rooyen.

The shock decision plunged the country and the rand into crisis. Zuma bowed to pressure and replaced Van Rooyen, who served for only three days, with the highly respected Pravin Gordhan.

"This is a date I'll never forget –- the 26th of October, 2015. He [Eric Wood] called me into a meeting in his office and told me that Minister Nhlanhla Nene will be fired," Mothepu said.

At the time, she had not understood the significance of what she was told.

"There had been cabinet reshuffles of ministers before. I didn't understand why he was telling me, because we never dealt with National Treasury or the minister of finance."

She explained how Wood later emailed her a "document of initiatives the new minister was going to approve -- there were about 12 of them -- and the potential fees that Regiments was going to earn".

Trillian is an offshoot of Regiments Capital.

"Six weeks later, the nation was shocked... when the minister [Nene] was fired. So, in the morning, I say to [Wood]: 'You were right, the minister was fired.' And he [told me] that 'a certain colleague of mine, his name is Mohammed Bobat', had been appointed the advisor to the new minister. And his role, essentially, was to channel all the work from state-owned companies or National Treasury to Trillian."

Three days later, Van Rooyen was replaced by Gordhan, who served up to the end of March this year before being removed by Zuma and replaced with Malusi Gigaba.

Mothepu claimed Wood had prior knowledge of this.

"On March 16, he told me that minister Pravin was going to be moved. And I couldn't hear him, because he was whispering... And then he wrote it down on my book, which I still have... He wrote 'change of finance minister'. This time I was shocked."

Mothepu was asked by evidence leader advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara how Wood could have known ahead of time about both Nene and Gordhan's removals.

She responded: "Unfortunately, I cannot speculate."

But she then alleged that Wood had used this prior knowledge to indulge in some currency trading.

"I'm told that [he] bought dollars because he knew that the removal of the finance minister was going to affect the rand. The day the announcement was made, and the rand was crashing, he reversed the trade and apparently made hundreds of millions of rands," she said.

Vanara asked Mothepu if she thought Wood could have only got word of Nene's removal from "the decision maker", implying President Jacob Zuma or someone close to him.

She responded: "You are correct."

She also said Wood had told her he had been to the Gupta home in Saxonwold "several times".

Quizzed later by MPs on why she was testifying, Mothepu told them she was there because, "I want to tell the truth."

She also broke down while telling MPs that she was currently unemployed and had not been able to find work -- despite her qualifications -- since resigning from Trillian in June last year.

Earlier, Mothepu confirmed that state-owned companies Eskom, SA Express and Transnet had all made payments to Trillian. None of the companies had contracts with the consulting firm.

Mothepu was accompanied to the inquiry by a legal team and security personnel.

Earlier, ahead of proceedings, the media were instructed by the committee chair not to broadcast images of her face.