South African power utility Eskom has suspended its chief financial officer pending a disciplinary hearing, the firm said on Friday, the latest fallout from allegations of influence- peddling in government by close friends of President Jacob Zuma.
The suspension of Anoj Singh was announced as the High Court ruled that it could not compel Zuma to set up a commission of inquiry into alleged influence-peddling by the Gupta family.
The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) had asked the court to force Zuma to establish a commission based on a report last year by an anti-graft watchdog into allegations that brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta had swayed the appointment of ministers.
Singh was suspended pending an investigation into allegations he granted preferential treatment to bidders supplying coal to the state-owned firm.
Leaked emails, which Reuters has not been able to independently verify, suggested that Singh favoured companies controlled by members of the Gupta family.
Zuma, the Gupta brothers and Singh have denied the accusations.
The court said it could not compel Zuma to establish a commission of inquiry pending a judicial review on the report that called for the probe.
The president has challenged the report in court, arguing that the Public Protector had no right to ask him to form such a commission, as this was solely the president’s prerogative.
“To compel the President at this stage will not only be tantamount to denying the hearing or his day in court, but it will also be understood to mean the Public Protector’s powers are unassailable irrespective of the content of the decision,” Pretoria High Court Judge Motsamai Makume said.
“That cannot be correct,” the judge said.
New allegations of inappropriate collusion between state-owned companies and the Gupta brothers have put more pressure on Zuma and ministers close to him.
But the court ruling was a boost for the scandal-plagued Zuma at a difficult time.
Allegations of widespread corruption and the raiding of taxpayer funds by outside interests — known locally as ‘state capture’ — have dented investor confidence in an economy which fell into a recession earlier in 2017.
On Wednesday, thousands of South Africans marched in anti-corruption protests in a rallying cry against Zuma and his allies three months before a new African National Congress leader is chosen.
Zuma also survived a no-confidence vote in parliament in August but he lost the support of a number of ANC MPs, showing deep divisions within the party that has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid in 1994.
The DA said it had noted the court ruling “with interest”, saying it approached the court to avoid delays in probing influence-peddling allegations.
“On a number of occasions, including before the National Assembly, President Zuma has stated that he will establish a Commission of Inquiry. To date, he has not done so,” DA spokesman James Selfe said.
Some analysts said the legal battles would only prolong probes into the influence-peddling allegations.
“Ultimately its negative for “state capture”. It’s not going to bring any finality to what’s been going on,” NKC African Economics analyst Gary van Staden said.