Gupta-Zuma Firm to Fight Fine After Optimum Buy, Rescuers Say

Administrators for Glencore Plc’s Optimum unit in South Africa “strongly dispute” a penalty state-owned utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. expects its new owners to pay after the mining complex was placed in bankruptcy protection.

Tegeta Exploration & Resources (Pty) Ltd., the South African company owned by the Gupta family and a venture fund in which President Jacob Zuma’s son is an investor, has been recommended by South Africa’s Competition Commission to be allowed to buy Optimum as long as it doesn’t cut jobs. Glencore placed the company in bankruptcy protection, known locally as business-rescue proceedings, after Eskom refused to renegotiate a coal-supply deal.

“The Eskom penalty of 2.1 billion rand ($133 million) imposed in July 2015 remains a contingent liability of Optimum,” which it “strongly disputes,” Louise Brugman, a spokeswoman for Optimum’s business rescuers, said in an e-mailed reply to questions. On finalization of the deal, the rescuers “expect that Tegeta will continue to dispute the penalty and therefore there will be no immediate need for Tegeta to settle the penalty,” she said.

The transaction has been attacked by opposition parties and labor unions because the Gupta family are in business with Zuma’s son and have employed two members of his family. Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane said he traveled to Switzerland to meet Glencore to advance the sale of the mine and save jobs.

Eskom demanded the penalty last year because it said the quality of the coal provided by Optimum to its Hendrina power plant breaches its supply contract.

“We have said whatever you do, we’re not going to waiver on the penalty,” Khulu Phasiwe, a spokesman for Eskom, said by phone, referring to discussions with Glencore.

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