Court setback for Guptas

Date: 23 Mar 2018

Mine business rescue plan halted pending application

THE GUPTAS risk losing control of the affairs of their crown jewel, Optimum Coal Mine, after suffering another crushing blow when the high court in Pretoria halted its plans to put the mine into business rescue.

The court will decide next week on a date when an urgent application is heard, lodged by Andile Qaku, of Deriko Mining and Exploration, who argued in his affidavit against business rescue due to the alleged unlawful appointment of practitioners linked to the controversial family.

On Tuesday, Qaku said the two business rescue practitioners, Kurt Robert Knoop and Johan Louis Klopper, appointed last month, have close business ties with the Guptas.

Qaku argued that one of them, Klopper, shared offices with the Guptas’ lawyers, Smit Sewgoolam, in Pietermaritzburg.

The high court found that the application to remove the business rescue practitioners of Optimum Coal Mine – which the family used to get multimillion-rand coal contracts from Eskom – was urgent.

The court further ordered that Klopper and Knoop may not pay any further historic debt that was due prior to the filing of the business rescue on February 19.

It ordered that no assets of Optimum may be disposed of pending finalisation of the urgent application, except the sale of assets in the normal course of business such as coal.

The Companies Act allows companies in financial distress to file for rescue, to reorganise and restructure the business back to stability and profitability with the help of a business rescue practitioner.

Yesterday, Qaku’s lawyer, Ruann Kruger, said it was clear that their submission that the business rescue practitioners would be biased was not unfounded.

The latest intervention of Gupta company Oakbay Resources, opposing their application, was a ploy to delay and frustrate the outcome of their urgent application.

“The practitioners were appointed by the directors of Optimum and they are not independent, hence we lodged an application to remove them. They further paid certain creditors above others, and we therefore say they are merely Gupta-appointed representatives not acting in the best interest of all the creditors of Optimum,” Kruger said.

In his urgent papers, Qaku argued that Optimum Coal Mine was part of a network or group of business through which their separate corporate identities were abused for unlawful and illegal business practices to the benefit of the Gupta family.

Qaku said the Guptas had appointed “puppet directors” to execute their wishes.

“It is for this reason that it is clear that the current business rescue practitioners have been installed by the director of the second respondent (Knoop) as part of a stratagem to immunise the second respondent against the growing wave of its creditors and other stakeholders claiming money from it, while at the same time remaining in a position where the bidding of their Gupta masters can be done without fear of interference,” Qaku said.

Knoop, in his papers, denied all allegations against him.

By Baldwin Ndaba -

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