Ex-SAA interim CEO tells court Myeni confiscated his e-cigarette, thinking it was a recording device | Fin24
 
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Ex-SAA interim CEO tells court Myeni confiscated his e-cigarette, thinking it was a recording device

Feb 03 2020 16:24
Sibongile Khumalo

Former SAA interim CEO, Nico Bezuidenhout, on Monday detailed in court how the airline's ex-chairperson, Dudu Myeni, interfered in the running of the flag carrier by issuing him with instructions to suspend or fire certain people. He also said that Myeni confiscated his e-cigarette, thinking it was a recording device. 

Bezuidenhout is a witness in a court application brought by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse and SAA Pilots Association to have Myeni declared a delinquent director. 

Bezuidenhout, who is currently heading up low cost airline Mango, was appointed acting SAA chief executive for the period between November 2014 and July 2015, when Myeni was chair of the flag carrier's board.

He told the court on Monday that, in 2015, he was instructed by Myeni not to sign off on a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with the Emirates airline, which would have expanded SAA's code sharing agreement and earned the troubled airline approximately $100m in annual revenues.

Myeni "wanted me to do certain things that were outside my business ethics," he said. At some point he was also told by Myeni to suspend SAA's then-chief commercial officer, Sylvain Bosc, because Myeni said there were "too many French people" in the company. 

He said he had also received another instruction from Myeni to terminate Wolf Meyer's contract, who the airline's then-CFO. According to Buzeidenhout, Meyer was at the time involved in SAA's debt consolidation plan. He said Myeni was "extremely upset" that Meyer had decided on an open tender for the airline's debt consolidation, as she favoured alternative ways of finance. "Ms Myeni was not happy with the debt consolidation plan," he said. 

Meyer resigned later in 2015, over what was described as breakdown of trust between himself and the board. Bosc was suspended in November 2015

E-cigarette row

Bezuidenhout also told the court how Myeni exploded with rage during a meeting after she mistook his electronic cigarette for a recording device.

He was accused of recording the proceedings by Myeni and the device was confiscated. It was only returned to him three months later.

Meanwhile, relations continued to fray between SAA's CEO and its chairperson.

Bezuidenhout said that in 2015 a forensic probe was opened against him, at a time when the airline - which has now been placed into business rescue - was fighting to stay afloat. 

"Relations between her and myself had become untenable" he said. The environment prompted him to ask that he return to his former position at Mango. But he did not want to leave with the cloud of an investigation hanging over his head.

The final report, he said, included a litany of allegations which he described as baseless. He said it contained claims that he "stole" four aircraft, was "in cahoots" with Christo Wiese, the chairperson of Shoprite, and that he was motivated to form a partnership between Mango and Edcon to allow customers to purchase Mango airline tickets using an Edgars account because he was allegedly a shareholder in Edcon. 

"Most of these things were annihilated in five minutes because they were baseless," he said.

During Bezuidenhout's cross examination, Myeni's advocate, Nqabayethu Buthelezi, attempted to pour cold water over the significance of SAA's controversial MoU with Emirates, calling it "hollow" and "lacking substance". He also questioned the expected financial benefits for SAA.  

Buthelezi will continue his cross examination on Tuesday.

mango  |  saa  |  dudu myeni  |  nico buzeidenhout
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