The Guptas appears to have snapped up a coal prospecting permit for just over R3-million and turned it into a staggering R900-million deal in a matter of months.

Reports has it that the deal, involving the rights on an Mpumalanga farm, has provided the first hint of a partnership between the controversial family and a Dubai-based conglomerate recently named in the public protector’s State of Capture report.

 Centaur Mining made the second-biggest contribution – R885-million – towards the family’s bill for Optimum Coal, it was claimed in the public protector’s report.

Optimum’s previous owners, the JSE-listed Glencore, had little choice but to sell after being squeezed by Eskom, which had bent over backwards to help the Guptas in the process, according to the public protector’s report.

Optimum coal list Public protector
The public protector’s list of entities that made transfers into a Bank of Baroda account later used to pay for Optimum Coal.

The report, which is scheduled to become the basis of a judicial inquiry pending legal action by President Jacob Zuma, listed Centaur’s transfer into a Gupta business account at the Bank of Baroda as one of 32 payments made between December last year and April this year.

Centaur has ignored repeated requests to explain whether the R885-million was for a stake in Optimum or as payment for Centaur’s Mpumalanga coal deal with the Guptas.

This is a tale of how the country’s foremost junior coal miners worked their way through a deal that, evidence strongly suggests, would later help them to bag one of the crown jewels in South Africa’s coal mining industry – Optimum Coal.

Rewind to June 2014 when a little-known entity, the Wananchi Power Corporation, was prospecting on De Roodepoort, a 3 000-hectare area outside Ermelo made up of a cluster of farms.

“Out of the blue, the Guptas appeared,” said someone previously associated with the company. They were prospecting on a small patch that was smack bang in the middle of the land for which Wananchi held a permit and the only part excluded from Wananchi’s prospecting rights.

It appears that having two prospectors on one farm was not ideal and Wananchi walked away three-and-a-half years into its five-year permit, allowing the Gupta-owned Idwala Coal to buy it out.

Although Wananchi’s owners refused to speak to the Mail & Guardian, it has been established that they sold their permit, with the necessary government approval, before it was due to expire, for just over R3-million.

Wananchi’s deal was done with a company called Tokicap (Pty) Ltd.