Ben Ngubane, a R6bn oil deal – and the Guptas

Ben Ngubane
Picture: Esa Alexander

As Ben Ngubane controversially resigned his Eskom board chairmanship, another mysterious link to him and the Gupta family has emerged.

The Times has found within the Gupta e-mail leaks, evidence that his passport was forwarded to Rajesh “Tony” Gupta in October 2013, along with invoices for a charter flight to travel to the Central African Republic (CAR).

The flight was for members of Ngubane’s company, Gade Oil and Gas, and at the time, they have confirmed, they were investigating a huge oil and gas deal there.

Ngubane said yesterday the deal could have seen him and his business partner, Salim Essa, earn an estimated R6-billion.

Essa is one of the Guptas’ closest business associates. He and Ngubane established Gade Oil and Gas together.

The proposed deal, reported on by The Times when the Gupta e-mails first leaked, has been dogged by accusations of bribes being asked for, but no evidence that they were paid.

Last month, Ngubane denied any association with the deal.

Yesterday, he said he had no idea how his passport had ended up with Rajesh Gupta.

E-mails show that it was sent by Gupta associate Iqbal Sharma, which Sharma confirmed yesterday.

Ngubane tendered his resignation from the Eskom board late on Monday, igniting speculation that the Gupta-linked network may be starting to crumble.

But Ngubane said his resignation was for personal reasons and not because of disclosures around the CAR deal or the looming parliamentary inquiry into Eskom’s controversies.

The Times earlier reported the intended deal was with the regime of the country’s then new president, Michel Djotodia, whose Seleka rebel forces had only months earlier killed 15 South African soldiers in overthrowing the previous government.

At the time, Ngubane’s spokesman Khulani Qoma said Gade Oil and Gas had refused to pay any bribes when incentive fees were demanded for meetings with senior government officials.

But the discovery of Ngubane’s passport e-mail raises new questions over exactly what was going on between Gade, the Guptas, the CAR and international oil and gas traders from the US and India.

Ngubane said yesterday that Gade had never functioned or traded in CAR because of the chaos at the time. He said he was an ambassador when the idea for the company arose.

“The company was to explore oil and gas opportunities in Africa. It was very professional.

“People forget that in South Africa there are very few small business sectors, so when you meet people who encourage you, you go investigate these opportunities.”

Ngubane said they had intended going to the CAR but never did because of the fighting.

Asked how a copy of his passport had ended up with Rajesh Gupta on October 8 2013, he said Essa had possibly sent it. When told that the fighting had ended when his passport was forwarded to the Guptas, Ngubane said “there is something funny going on”.

“Unless someone used my passport fraudulently, I never flew there, ” he said.

He also said he had no relationship with the Guptas. “You meet people and they talk to you, but that does not mean you have a relationship.”

Ngubane said that, at the time, he had seen himself as “opening opportunities for myself and Essa”.

He said they had been in the process of finding international partners to secure the licence for the block, which they intended selling for R6-billion.

While Eskom board chairman, he had declared Gade Holdings, but not its subsidiaries, including Gade Oil and Gas. “That’s where the mistake was made,” he said. “It did not cross my mind it was on the companies records system. It was an error on my part.”

Ngubane insisted he had resigned from Eskom for personal reasons, not because of these disclosures or others. “This [his resignation] is what people have wanted. They should be celebrating not questioning why I have resigned.”

Sharma confirmed Ngubane’s company had been looking to get into the CAR oil business through a US mineral resources company. “The US owner asked for access to CAR,” he said. “In that context, Tony [Rajesh Gupta] introduced me to a Cape Town business who said he had the CAR government’s mandate.

“In pursuit of a certain oil block, the idea was to set up a company, which was the shelf company Gade Oil and Gas, which would get it. “Ngubane was made chairman of the company. “Arrangements were made to travel to CAR, but nothing ever happened. Attempts were made by the Cape Town businessman to extract money for a meeting with the CAR government, but these meetings did not occur.”

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