In a South African corruption scandal so grand it became known as “state capture,” former President Jacob Zuma is alleged to have colluded with members of the wealthy and influential Gupta family to embezzle billions of dollars of public funds, while massively indebting the country.
One investment company, Trillian, appeared at the center of the Guptas’ financial network, which spanned four continents.
Last year, OCCRP exclusively obtained a copy of a Trillian server used by the company between 2012 and 2017. In addition to popular movies, television shows, and R&B music, the server contained more than three million documents, including memos, invoices, and internal emails. These materials enabled reporters to piece together an understanding of the complicated financial schemes that enabled the family, and their influential political backers, to siphon off public funds.
The files show that Trillian’s co-founders, Gupta family allies Eric Wood and Salim Essa, began working together as early as September 2012 to win big — and often predatory — contracts from state-owned companies. The pair set about making deals with a number of state firms that cost the companies millions of dollars, including Transnet, a major railway and transport company, and Eskom, a utilities company. Municipal budgets like the City of Johannesburg Fund were also targeted, the documents show.
In total, Trillian, its proxies, and its shell companies dubiously obtained and laundered more than R1.5 billion (US$100 million) of public funds, according to OCCRP’s analysis. Through a raft of schemes to access lucrative contracts, Trillian appears to have profited from exorbitant fees involving:
- R891 million ($59 million) in bank shares through a politically connected shell company
- R595 million ($40 million) in inflated invoices from Eskom paid out to shell companies
- R133 million ($9 million) from currency manipulation via government bonds
- R36 million ($2.8 million) in fraudulent services for Transnet’s property portfolio
The stories below are the result of OCCRP’s months-long analysis of the documents on the Trillian server. We are now making the data available to other media outlets in South Africa and beyond. Interested journalists can contact Khadija Sharife (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Mark Anderson (email@example.com) with a request for access.