Battle for Optimum Coal | Fin24
 
Loading...

Battle for Optimum Coal

Mar 18 2018 06:00
Dewald Van Rensburg

A campaign to unseat the business rescue practitioners running eight Gupta-owned companies is now being led by a newly created shelf company that is buying up other creditors’ invoices, court papers show.

Direko Mining and Exploration launched an application to remove Kurt Knoop and Johan-Louis Klopper this week after its attorney initially threatened to bring a similar application on behalf of Optimum’s workers.

Despite its name and suggestive evidence in its court papers, Direko denies it was created to acquire the Optimum mine, the jewel among the Gupta family’s many distressed companies.

The company, registered in January, bought over the debt of an Optimum creditor so that it could launch the application.

Direko is asking for the practitioners to be removed due to “reasonable apprehension” that they are linked to the Gupta family and will run the business rescue of their interconnected empire in the family’s interests, according to an affidavit by Direko’s sole director Andile Qaku.

In their place, Direko is asking for two new practitioners of its choosing to be installed – Koos van Rensburg and Jacolien Barnard.

Direko’s attorney is Ruann Kruger, who had earlier struck a deal with the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) branch in Middelburg to remove Klopper and Knoop on the company’s behalf.

However, the NUM branch did not have the blessing of the union and that bid has not materialised.

Kruger told City Press on Friday that Direko “is a financing company who factored invoices of a contractor of the mine”.

“It wants to get paid for the invoices it paid out and owns. It considers the best way to do this is through honest business rescue.”

Apart from Qaku, Direko management includes Eddie Marafane, a former executive director at the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency who resigned in 2015 amid allegations about missing money allocated for Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

A FALLACY

Knoop has fired back in a responding affidavit calling the allegation against him and Klopper “hopeless and vexatious”.

“It is probable that the applicant [Direko] is simply the mouthpiece for an éminence grise with its own undisclosed agenda,” claimed Knoop.

“Somebody believes they can purchase the business if new business rescue practitioners are put in place.”

Knoop added that allegations that he and Klopper were beholden to the Gupta family were “unlawful and defamatory”.

“The entire thesis of this application is a fallacy that is unsupported by any facts and probabilities,” he said.

Knoop also said the earlier threat by the NUM branch, which was immediately countered by the union’s head office, “suggests that influence has been brought to bear on the Middelburg branch ... to provide the resolution”.

Knoop further claims that Barnard does not even qualify for the job.

Knoop and Klopper now demand that Direko put up security of R250 000 for legal costs and that Qaku personally appear in court to be cross-examined.

Annexures in the court papers show that Direko became a creditor of Optimum after making what seems like preparations for a takeover of the mine since at least January.

Among the court documents is a letter from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) dated February 12 in which it declines a request for financing from Direko to acquire the mine but tentatively says it might provide working capital.

The IDC told City Press that this was a “standard letter” and that its response would have to be re-evaluated now that the mine is in business rescue.

Direko had also contacted UK-based trader Tormond to organise forward sales of Optimum coal reserves, court papers show. A response letter in the court papers says that Tormond is “ready, willing and able to enter into an off-take agreement for your commodity”.

Direko however maintains that it is an invoice factoring company that just wants to collect on the invoices of Optimum creditors. It bought the R16 million debt Optimum owed a labour broker – Bakone Technical Services & Supplies – for an undisclosed sum.

This cession agreement is dated February 19.

Knoop, however, said that Optimum’s contract with Bakone explicitly prohibited cession of debts without Optimum’s consent, making this deal legally impossible.

Bakone referred City Press to its attorney, Johan van Staden, who did not return a call.

NOT ALONE

Other pre-existing creditors of Optimum have joined the application to remove Knoop and Klopper, and they have the support of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA), which told City Press that Knoop and Klopper “have been linked to the management of the mine and are therefore compromised”.

Sharon White, another creditor of Optimum, whose company Reaction Consulting is owed R1 million, has also joined the case. Reaction built a state-of-the-art clinic for Optimum in the Hendrina community, but it is now locked up because of non-payment.

In an emailed statement, OUTA chief operating officer Ben Theron said that the organisation was concerned about comments made by Knoop at a creditors’ meeting last week.

Knoop had said that about R200 million of the R1.8 billion rehabilitation funds of the Optimum and Koornfontein mines could potentially be used by the companies, as the funds were in surplus.

The two funds were moved from the Bank of Baroda to Nedbank in terms of a preservation order last week.

‘SERVING THE GUPTAS’

The crux of the argument to remove Knoop and Klopper is that they were irregularly appointed to begin with – and that they might be working for the Guptas.

Qaku, however, also claims that the burden to prove this allegation is low. It will be enough to have a “well-grounded apprehension ... that there is a less than arm’s-length distance between the business rescue practitioners appointed by the first respondent [Optimum] and its business”.

The argument seems to be that the Guptas are so extremely crafty and nefarious that everything around them requires additional caution.

Klopper previously acted as business rescuer of PC Zone CC, which is allegedly also a Gupta company, said Qaku.

Then there is the unrelated problem of the two now administering eight companies that are entangled in a web of intercompany loans and contracts, which means Knoop and Klopper represent creditors and debtors at the same time.

Direko also claims that there was a liquidation application against Optimum as early as February 8. This would invalidate the business rescue applications on February 19, but Knoop and Klopper deny the existence of this application, which was allegedly brought by a contractor called Kusile Mining.

Kruger could not provide this application either, but claims that it was being hidden by the applicant – Kusile – after Klopper and Knoop paid it off.

An email from Kusile’s attorney, Brandon Tshabangu, which City Press has seen, seems to intimate that there was in fact an application of some sort, but that it is none of Direko or Kruger’s business.

* SUBSCRIBE FOR FREE UPDATE: Get Fin24's top morning business news and opinions in your inbox.

optimum coal  |  gupta family  |  mining  |  business rescue
NEXT ON FIN24X

 
 
 

Read Fin24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Company Snapshot

Money Clinic

Money Clinic
Do you have a question about your finances? We'll get an expert opinion.
Click here...

Voting Booth

Can the SABC avoid retrenching staff?

Previous results · Suggest a vote

Loading...