Mpati Commission evidence lands Survé in fast-heating water

CAPE TOWN — Given sufficient billions in State pensions money, political connection, boundless ambition and iron-control of a sycophantic media empire, you can easily script a noble, socially-uplifting narrative. Except that when the illusion begins to fray, you have to convince the world that a slew of people who, until you came along had unblemished reputations, are out to get you. When your own employees start delivering damning testimony to the Mpati Commission of alleged manipulation of company bottom lines, your self-portrait as an arms-length media owner and financial chief quickly loses lustre. Veteran journalist Ed Herbst, meticulously pulls together strands of evidence and expert observations both at the Mpati Commission and beyond, to weave a very different narrative to the one Survé’s newspapers have stitched together through commission and omission. Survé’s highly questionable use of the R4.3bn PIC “loan” via the good graces of his personal friend, PIC chief, Dr Dan Matjila, especially when it comes to buying luxurious Waterfront apartments, seems increasingly likely to land him in criminally-liable waters. Here’s a reality show now seriously competing for Zondo Commission viewer-time. – Chris Bateman

Iqbal, Magda and Plan B

By Ed Herbst*

In response to a request for comment, a Sekunjalo company spokesperson said Survé “has no knowledge of this and suggests that this question be put to AYO, whom he is certain will refute this serious allegation”. – Iqbal Survé denies ordering AYO to tamper with financial filings Fin 24 10/4/2019

It is seldom that corporate crime is as simple and stupid as this. Khalid Abdulla, CEO of AEEI, just changed Ayo Technology’s profit number in a spreadsheet. Then released it to the market. That’s it. I am offering to sponsor an orange jumpsuit. – Magda Wierzycka Twitter 18/4/2019

It was all a bit suspect.

In point 49 on page 15 of the statement that he submitted to the Lex Mpati commission, former Ayo Technology Solutions CEO, Kevin Hardy states:

Post the half year, we were due to present our interim results. Naahied Gamieldien (CFO of AYO) had been instructed to amend the numbers to reflect an inflated number to the market. This instruction had come from Dr Survé and Khalid Abdulla, who together with Malick Salie had amended the numbers. WhatsApp messages prove at the time that she was summoned to Khalid’s house to make the changes with Khalid and Malick. She was not happy with the changes but said she was comfortable that we could make up the shortfall in the second half off some of the acquisitions. (ANNEXURE H)

In point 35 on page 11, Hardy testifies that nothing happened in Survé-linked companies without his approval and that he exercised iron-fisted and total control.

  1. Dr Survé’s group control

Dr Survé committed on many occasions to me that he would not interfere with the business and he was only an indirect shareholder and investor, but this could not have been further from the truth and what actually transpired as my tenure continued, it became clear that no group company was out of his control. He was consulted on all big decisions in the group and Salim Young and Khalid Abdulla did nothing without his approval. We were required to get Dr Survé’s advice or guidance on most decisions.

So when Survé was asked for a response to Hardy’s under-oath statements, he pleaded ignorance and said he was sure that AYO office bearers would confirm his total non-involvement.

With Hardy having implicated Naahied Gamieldien – Iqbal Survé’s Chief Financial Officer – in the alleged scam, the Mpati commission was duty-bound to give her the opportunity of right-of-reply testimony.  She was duly summoned and, instead of vindicating Survé and Abdulla, the subpoenaed whistle-blower, telling the truth under oath, confirmed Hardy’s testimony.

Unlike Hardy, Gamieldien was a trusted insider. She has an honours degree in accountancy and had been a Survé employee since 2007.

The report by eNCA reporter Heidi Giokos was headlined Former AYO CFO testifies about cooking the books and it contains two telling sound bites from Gamieldien.

At 28 seconds she says of her interaction with Khalid Abdulla:

He queried why the margins were so low as he was expecting a higher profitability and asked me to adjust the spreadsheet to reflect the usual margins to show him what the effect on PAT [profit after tax] would then be.

What Gamieldien was clearly not expecting was that Abdulla, as Magda Wierzycka points out in one of the anchor quotes to this article, would then present that ‘adjusted’ figure to the market as the real deal.

I’m not a lawyer, but to me that sounds suspiciously like fraud.

As we also now know – thanks to her testimony – hardly had the PIC’s R4.3bn investment in AYO landed in its account courtesy of Dr Dan Matjila, than millions of rands were shifted into the accounts of companies under Survé’s control despite a request by PIC assistant portfolio manager Victor Seanie that this not be done.

Yet, as the Sunday Times pointed out in an editorial on 19 April, this is precisely what Survé – a man of grace and gravitas and truth and a champion of reconciliation it must be said –  had previously denied.

Here’s how Siphiwe Nodwele described this with reference to Naahied Gamieldien on page 11 of his submitted statement:

Transfer of R400m PIC funding to 3 Laws Capital

  1.  l will never forget the day that Naahied Gamieldien, our CFO called me on the 2nd of March 2018. It was a Friday afternoon in Johannesburg and l was on my way to meet one of our potential target companies. Incidentally, my wife was in the car and l remember Naahied quipping “Does your wife come with you to all your meetings?”  The call was clearly a very confidential one and l assured her that anything you say to me, you can say to my wife. She then proceeded to tell me that she had just received a call from Khalid Abdulla and he had instructed her to transfer R400m into 3 Laws Capitals bank account. She quoted Khalid Abdulla as saying that “Doc wants this transfer to be done before the weekend!” She raised the concern that 3 Laws Capital is a company owned by Dr Survé. Furthermore, his sister, Aziza Amod who sat on the board of AYO, was also a director of this company. To her credit, she had fought back and required that a resolution be drawn up before any such transaction could take place. The reason she called me was given my legal background, she wanted me to check if the MOI allowed for such loans and/or investment. She asked that l respond on her private email which she subsequently sent to me via WhatsApp – a move I assumed was to protect her and ensure that she did not compromise her job by being seen to be obstructive to such instructions.
  2. Everything felt very wrong about that process, and while Naahied had done well to push back against Khalid Abdulla‘s instruction to her to transfer such a vast sum of money on the back of a phone call (which obviously came from Dr Survé) the urgency and speed of such transfer made me worry about whether this was a legitimate business transaction or the beginning of the siphoning of the cash from our bank accounts as critics had feared.

At 58 seconds of the eNCA report, Gamieldien says:

In retrospect I realise that I erred in making the payments but did so because Abdulla was adamant that the payments be made.

So incriminating was the confirmation by Naahied Gamieldien of the allegations by Kevin Hardy and Siphiwe Nodwele implicating Iqbal Survé and Khalid Abdulla, that evidence leader, advocate Jannie Lubbe, felt compelled to seek assurances from AYO that she would suffer no retribution when she returned to work.

This assurance was subsequently given but what was telling at this juncture of the proceedings was Lubbe’s assertion – confirmed by Gamieldien – that she had been offered the services of Surve’s lawyers to assist in preparing her Mpati commission testimony, but that she had declined the offer and used her own lawyer.

Make of that what you will.

Positive spin

The next day, Survé’s newspapers put a positive spin on her evidence with no mention of her concerns.

What her evidence and the evidence of Nodwele and Hardy makes clear is that in Iqbal’s Fiefdom, you obey his diktats even if your conscience and your training tells you otherwise – or suffer the consequences. The way in which the ethical non-sycophants – Terry Bell, Alide Dasnois, Donwald Pressly, Janet Heard, Tony Weaver, Melanie Gosling and others were quickly driven out of Sekunjalo Independent Media shortly after the takeover, is testimony to that.

Page 13 of Nodwele’s statement provides more disturbing information about the R400m hastily transferred out of AYO and into bank accounts controlled by Iqbal Survé:

There were many theories about what this R400m was for. Naahied Gamieldien, the erstwhile CFO of AYO thought it was to buy apartments at the Silo, Arthur Johnson, the chief investment officer of 3 Laws Capital, thought it was designated for the pre-listing commitments for Sagarmatha and Kevin and I were concerned that it could be for the Independent Media payment that was due in August as per the media reports at the time.

As subsequently transpired, Naahied Gamieldien was the closest guess – ask Bobby Jordan, he’ll tell you.

The assumption by Kevin Hardy and Siphiwe Nodwele was way off the mark as finance minister Tito Mboweni confirmed in parliament on 2 November last year.

While Magda Wierzycka undoubtedly articulates the hopes of many South Africans in hoping for an orange overall future for those implicated by Kevin Hardy, Siphiwe Nodwele and Naahied Gamieldien, let us not lose sight of Iqbal Survé’s Plan B.

One half of the plan is to list the Sagarmatha R50bn Intergalactic Highway Fourth Industrial Revolution Uber-Trouncing Amazon-Busting African Unicorn on the New York stock exchange, thereby unlocking almost incomprehensible wealth to the chagrin of Jeff Bezos and Dara Khosrowshahi.

Iqbal’s Everest. More of Zapiro’s brilliant cartoon work available at www.zapiro.com.

Billions of rands

The other half of Plan B is to solve his financial problems by suing those who have expressed concerns about him and the way he operates for billions of rands.

So what are the chances of Iqbal Survé scoring a handy billion or two through civil litigation against Alide Dasnois and Helen Zille and Max du Preez and Terry Bell and Janet Heard and Peter Flack and Stephen Grootes and Ricky Stoch and Sam Sole and Dewald van Rensburg and Ann Crotty and Tim Cohen and Ivo Vegter and Marianne Thamm and Anton Harber and Carol Paton and  James Myburgh and Donwald Pressly and Craig McKune and Micah Reddy and David Benatar  and Chris Whitfield and Michael Mpofu and Dr Julie Reid and Chris Roper  and Brendan Seery and Dirk de Vos and Max Price and Andrew Bonamour and Jonathan Jansen and Sidney Kaye and Dougie Oakes and Kevin Hardy and Siphiwe Nodwele and Victor Seanie  and Tom Eaton and Magda Wierzycka  and Mondli Makhanya and Tony Jackman and  Warren Thompson and Asad Essa and Tatenda Gwaambuka and Cosatu and noseweek and R2K and ODAC and SANEF and Zapiro?

I mean, Anton Harber called the philanthropist who needs bodyguards a fantasist and a charlatan and Ivo Vegter went so far as to call him a crook and Magda Wierzycka keeps implying that he is an obvious orange overall candidate.

If not true, provable and in the public interest, such accusations are seriously defamatory.

However, judging by two relevant verdicts, South African courts award defamation damages amounting, at most, to a few hundred thousand rand.

A month ago Athol Trollip – who won a defamation court case – was awarded R250,000 although he had sued for R6m.

Even more pertinent was a defamation claim for R1m against one of Iqbal Survé’s newspapers, the Daily Voice.

In yet another example of how ethical journalism was abandoned when Sekunjalo gained control of the former Argus Group newspapers, the Daily Voice accused Inspector Clive Muller, a teetotal policeman with an exemplary career record, of being drunk and disorderly on duty.

The article was devoid of truth, a brazen but typical Sekunjalo Independent Media Fake News lie and a total negation of one of the most basic tenets of ethical journalism, ‘Do least harm’.

It was the sort of lie that Adri Senekal de Wet correctly believes should be criminalised – but the Cape High Court awarded Muller, not R1m but R70,000. You can read the judgment here.

Survé reneged on his threat to sue Rhoda Kadalie and declined the Labour Court opportunity to testify under oath when he was successfully sued by Alide Dasnois. One of the reasons might be that he does not do too well under cross-examination – witness his interaction with Gill Marcus at one minute and 42 seconds of this video clip.

It could therefore be that, like Jacob Zuma’s threat to sue Zapiro, this is just an attempt to intimidate.

What the Mpati commission is doing – thanks to President Cyril Ramaphosa – is to provide exploited and denigrated people like Siphiwe Nodwele and Kevin Hardy an equal shot at redemption.

They are empowered and so are we.

In a previous article on Biznews I expressed my perception that the ‘Other Mandela Doctor’ had perjured himself when he told the commission that he does not dictate to his editors what they must publish. I now contend, based on the confirming testimony of Naahied Gamieldien, that he was also not telling the truth when he said that he did not interfere in the administration of AYO Technology Solutions.

So where does this leave Dr Iqbal Survé?

I ask the question because, interviewed by the SABC in November 2014, he said at 4 minutes 26 seconds of this YouTube clip:

“In our group they call me two things, I am not sure that it’s an appropriate term, either the ‘Teflon Doctor’ because whatever the competitors say bounces off me or they call me ‘The Fearless Leader’.”

The Teflon seems to be wearing a bit thin for the Fearless Leader at the Mpati commission – particularly as he and his senior executives are bound to be recalled to respond to the incriminating and mutually-supportive evidence of Gamieldien, Nodwele and Hardy –  but you will, nevertheless, find a comforting answer in an article on the IOL website headlined The man who wants to change the world:

Every day he affords himself a few minutes of meditation – early in the morning and late in the evening. He then asks himself the following: “What good will I do today?” and then in the evening: “What could I have done differently?” At the end of his life, he wants to be proud of his answers to these two questions, and feel “that there is no deficit with respect to having made a difference in this country, the continent and the world”, he says.

He’ll make a plan.

The country – and the universe, obviously – depend on it.

  • Ed Herbst is a veteran journalist who these days writes in his own capacity.