#GuptaEmails: Our soldiers died…and then came the dealmakers

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The soldiers were killed in March 2013 by Seleka rebels who overran the country and ousted former CAR president Francois Bozizi. South Africa had deployed hundreds of troops to that country as part of a military training programme for Bozizi’s special forces.

Many of the soldiers who fought in the now infamous Battle of Bangui died after running out of ammunition.

But barely four months after the South African troops were slain‚ Gupta associates were involved in talks with the regime of Djotodia‚ who was CAR president from March 2013 and January 2014‚ and the Gupta family were consulted‚ leaked emails suggest.

Shortly after Djotodia came to power‚ South African company‚ Gade Oil and Gas‚ at the time owned by Gupta associate Salim Essa‚ and Ben Ngubane‚ a former arts and culture minister‚ submitted to his government an expression of interest to explore an oil block in that country‚ the emails suggest.

The ensuing negotiations for this block was met with a US$50‚000 “incentive fee” for a meeting from a middleman in CAR.

The middleman claimed to wield influence over CAR’s Minister of Oil and Petroleum.

Emails seen by TimesLIVE from the middleman‚ dated October 28‚ state: “Can you confirm that any advance [down payment upon signing] incentive for the Minister will also include mine at minimum level of 50.000$.

“… my role with the new government here has been very influential one hence I am always expected to take care of others ‘behind the scene’. I feel comfortable if you handle mine separate from the Minister.”

The e-mail was forwarded to prominent businessman and former Essa partner‚ Iqabal Sharma‚ by Cape Town businessman Luphumzo Kebeni.

Sharma told TimesLIVE when contacted on Wednesday that Kebeni‚ a former South African government employee‚ claimed to be representing the interests of the CAR government.

Sharma told TimesLIVE: “We never spoke to anybody in power directly. We were told we could speak to the ministry. This project never really materialised … I think negotiations dragged on for few months‚ but nothing happened because we were not willing to pay for a meeting.”

Included in the emails seen by TimesLIVE are others which spell out the terms of an offer from one of the companies involved.

The email reads: “This is the official offer – an additional 6M$ will be paid to the guys there … In total 16$M”.

This mail ultimately ended up in the in-tray of Rajesh “Tony” Gupta on July 30‚ passing through Essa and Sharma. Sharma said they had come to him and Gupta for help with mining opportunities.

“I didn’t know anyone who could do that‚ so I spoke to Tony (Gupta). He mentioned that Kebeni has contacts in that place and he had mentioned elsewhere that he worked in the oil and gas business.

He said: “Kebeni claimed that he knew people in the Ministry … and that he had been tasked by the CAR government to source investment. The decision was made that he arrange a meeting with the President through [the middleman].

“But all this never materialised. The discussion by [the middleman] mentioning incentives was out of turn and it was never entertained. That’s why there was no meeting because no one entertained the idea of paying for any meeting‚” he said.

Kebeni said he had not met with any Gupta family members or even known of their involvement in the transaction involving Gade Oil and Gas. He said he had never met Sharma nor Ngubane.

He said he knew the middleman who had helped him “as a long time friend and comrade” who had helped him establish business networks.

Kebeni said he acted as a broker. “I never received any bribes nor paid any such emoluments to anyone because none of the transactions we were pursuing at the time yielded anything.”

A statement released by Ngubane on Wednesday night said: “The company refused to pay any fees to anyone. It also did not enter into any transactions in the CAR and does not own any gas and oil mining rights in the CAR or anywhere else.”

The statement said Ngubane had left the company which was dormant.

Gupta family attorney Gert Van Der Merwe said on Wednesday: “The e-mails that you are relying on are (1) unlawfully obtained‚ (2) not authentic‚ and (3) not fully disclosed and therefore not worthy of a comment.”

-TMG Digital/TimesLIVE

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