Pamensky attempts to clear his name at Zondo Commission
Embattled former Eskom board member and alleged Gupta family insider, Mark Pamensky, is desperate to prove his innocence, but isn’t having an easy time of it at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
He wants the Jewish community to believe he played no part at all in state capture involving the ailing power utility and the infamous Gupta brothers. This in spite of his once close association with the Guptas – the notorious family believed to be behind state capture – and his longstanding friendships with controversial Gupta lieutenants Salim Essa and Kuben Moodley.
At the Zondo Commission late last week, Pamensky attempted to explain his way out of his entanglements with the three Gupta brothers and Eskom which have plagued him for several years.
In doing so, he drew the Jewish community into the public domain by telling the commission that he had been ousted by the community. He said many believed he was involved in the highly controversial transaction between Gupta-owned Tegeta and Glencore’s Optimum Coal Mine (OCM) in spite of his persistent denials.
At the end of his testimony, he thanked Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo for the opportunity to explain that he “wasn’t involved” in spite of dubious emails written by him to the Guptas suggesting otherwise.
“I’ve waited five years to explain these emails,” Pamensky said. “I have been lambasted, I’ve been kicked out of the Jewish community. On these emails, people think I was involved in this transaction, I’ve never been involved in this transaction. So, at least I had my chance to come forward and tell it all today. For me, it’s a big, big thank you from my side.”
Pamensky didn’t respond to several requests by the SA Jewish Report for comment this week.
Eyebrows were raised last week, however, when he tried to explain how he came to attend the infamous and extravagant Gupta wedding in Sun City in 2013. At the time, he said he had never met the Guptas, who sent an invitation to his then employer Blue Label Telecoms.
“I don’t know why the invitation came. I took the invitation. And I went because I’m single, everyone else is married. No, they are all married, as I said to you. So they didn’t want to go. So I was happy to go because it was a free weekend,” he told Evidence Leader Advocate Pule Seleka and Zondo.
Except that Pamensky wasn’t single at the time. In fact, he got married in August 2012, the year before the Gupta wedding.
“He actually lied about being single at the time,” said one businessman who wished to remain anonymous.
Zondo seemed amused by the random invitation to the Gupta wedding.
“Are you suggesting that the Gupta family just sent an invitation to a company it [didn’t know] anything about?” asked Zondo. Pamensky responded with an emphatic ,“Yes”.
“It just sounds strange that it would send an invitation to a company that it had never had any interaction with,” said Zondo.
Pamensky, who didn’t meet the Guptas at the wedding, said his first contact with a Gupta brother was a year later in June 2014, when “out of the blue” he received a call to “have a cup of tea” with Tony Gupta.
“Calls do come out of the blue. I got one. He said come over for a cup of tea and have a discussion,” said Pamensky. “We had the meeting, and he explained to me a bit about Sahara [Computers], his operation, where it was going, and his mining operations.”
Pamensky said “nothing came of that meeting” but three months later, Atul Gupta invited him to be a non-executive director of the Gupta-owned and Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed Oakbay Resources and Energy (ORE). He accepted the invitation.
At the time, the Guptas were intent on acquiring Optimum Coal Mine (OCM), a company which supplied coal to Eskom. Pamensky was appointed an Eskom board member three months later in December 2014.
Pamensky has consistently denied being involved in the flow of privileged information between the companies. But emails between himself and Atul Gupta suggested the opposite.
He has steadfastly denied any involvement in the purchase of Glencore’s OCM by Tegeta which was owned by the Gupta’s Oakbay Investments. He denied he advised the Guptas based on privileged information from Eskom. He denied he assisted the Guptas to get the R2.1bn penalty imposed on OCM withdrawn.
Pamensky’s presence on both boards simultaneously raised conflict of interest issues, as the Guptas stood to make billions by supplying coal to Eskom.
He told the commission he was already a board member when he sent an email to the Guptas congratulating them with a “mazeltov” on their acquisition of OCM. But he said he didn’t have insider information because as a board member of Gupta-owned ORE, he had recused himself from all coal-procurement decisions of the power utility in order to manage the conflict of interest.
In his email, he said he would meet the Guptas anywhere in India or Dubai to discuss the transaction, but he maintains he didn’t divulge privileged information to them.
He admitted that he advised the Guptas not to conclude the deal unless it was clear that they wouldn’t be liable for the fines imposed by Eskom. But he said this information was gleaned from the press not from Eskom.
“Where did you get the information you were talking about in the email communication to Atul about ‘acquisition of Optimum Coal’ in which you stated that you were ‘happy to get involved in this acquisition’?” asked Seleka.
“I met Mr Atul Gupta on 22 November 2015, and for the first time, he said they were looking to buy OCM. After I met him, I wrote the email to state what our discussions were and the discussion ended there,” he said.
But why did Pamensky send another email to Atul Gupta on 10 December congratulating him on the successful acquisition of OCM thanks to a R1.6bn prepayment assistance from Eskom?
This information, too, reached him through media reports and he had not used his Eskom position to lobby for the Guptas, the commission heard.
“This transaction was publicly announced and, again, I had never been involved in it. There is nothing untoward about me congratulating him based on what I saw in the press.
“I knew nothing. Everything I gained was from the press. I have never been involved in this transaction, fortunately enough.”
Pamensky went before the commission in 2019 to explain his alleged involvement in another Gupta-Eskom-linked shenanigan. He was called to testify about his alleged involvement in ratifying a dodgy sponsorship contract between cash-strapped Eskom and Gupta-owned newspaper The New Age.
The Guptas owned TNA Media. The family’s close relationship to former President Jacob Zuma resulted in a lack of impartiality in the newspaper’s handling of controversial stories relating to Zuma and the ruling party.
Last week, Pamensky appeared sweaty and fidgety and at times broke into unrelated testimony. Even his advocate, Jonathan Blou, described him as “irrepressible”.
Pamensky is due to appear again at the Zondo Commission on a date yet to be determined.