The Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa, whose company Trillian Holdings made hundreds of millions of rands from contracts implicated in state capture, has cut and run. Essa was the majority shareholder in Trillian Holdings.
Yesterday, Trillian said that Essa had sold his shares to business partner Eric Wood. Two business people in Johannesburg who know Essa said he was likely to move his money and his business empire to Dubai where he has already set up shop.
The Bentley-driving, sharp-talking Essa has homes in Houghton, Johannesburg and Dubai where he has started businesses. One of these companies, The Marketing Quotient, made at least one of the first hefty retainer payments to Bell Pottinger.
This is according to reports based on the #Guptaleaks which revealed the details of the propaganda campaign undertaken by the British PR giant on behalf of the family.
The Gupta family is said to be investing in Dubai Healthcare City, a bespoke and top-end medical city within a city based in the Emirate.
The 38-year-old Essa was raised in Houghton and his family was among the first Muslim families to settle in the upmarket Johannesburg suburb. He started out as a trader in his dad's wholesaler but quickly carved out a bigger empire for himself.
He was introduced to the Gupta family about 17 years ago via friends who in turn were introduced to the clan by the Indian consul-general's office in Johannesburg. They got on like a house on fire and he quickly became like a fourth brother to Atul, Ajay and Tony Gupta. His and their business holdings are intertwined and span defence and logistics, among other sectors.
Trillian Holdings and its capital raising arm, Trillian Capital, muscled competitor black companies out of Eskom and Transnet as Wood and Essa went for the kill, riding on the back of the Gupta's massive political capital acquired through their easy access to President Jacob Zuma. They made at least a billion rand in turnover out of the companies, according to reports by the investigative centre, AmaBhungane, and the Budlender report written by advocate Geoff Budlender and published last month.
The report found that Eskom had illegally paid Trillian R250 million and that this work had not been tendered for and there was no formal contract with Eskom. Budlender revealed that Trillian had been paid for work it had not done at Transnet. Former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela revealed in her State of Capture report that Trillian was used as a funder for the Gupta family's coal interests: the company is reported to have stumped up R235 million to pay for Optimum coal mine which was bought from Glencore.
Trillian first came to the public eye in 2016 when amaBhungane revealed the company's CEO Eric Wood had known that former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene would be fired months before it happened. He plotted out a work plan to take over key Treasury functions once a new minister would be appointed.
Budlender's report reveals that a whistle-blower from Trillian told him that on the morning after Nene's axing she went to Woods's office and told him he had been right about the reshuffle at the Treasury. "Of course I was," Woods replied.
Trillian has denied a lot of Budlender's response and promised its own version. Yesterday, it said "the unrelenting media allegations arising from Mr Essa's holding (despite no proof or official charge) has had a negative impact on the ability of Trillian Capital Partners and its staff to reach their full potential. It is therefore with regret that Mr Essa has taken the decision to divest from the business".
* HuffPost SA tried through several channels to speak to Essa but was unsuccessful.