High Court reserves judgment on Mphoko, Choppies case

Source: High Court reserves judgment on Mphoko, Choppies case – NewsDay Zimbabwe

Phelekezela Mphoko

THE Bulawayo High Court has reserved judgment in a case involving former Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and his son, Siqokoqela who are suing Choppies Enterprises over a 51% Choppies share stake they lost.

The Mphokos sued Nanavac Investments Pty Ltd, Choppies Enterprises and Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) Limited in Gaborone, Botswana demanding payment for the 51% shares they held before they were unlawfully divested of their entire shareholding by the company.

Yesterday, Mphoko’s lawyer Zibusiso Ncube said the matter was heard last Thursday when the parties made their oral arguments.

“We argued on exception on May 19 and judgment was reserved,” Ncube said.

He said the matter was heard before Bulawayo High Court judge, Justice Martin Makonese.

The matter also involves former Botswana President Festus Mogae and Choppies managing director Ottapathu Ramachandran. It emerged that the Mphokos allegedly helped Choppies bypass provisions of Zimbabwe’s Indigenous Act through their ownership of shares.

In a letter addressed to Mphoko when the fallout started, Mogae who is former Choppies chairperson wrote: “…My brother (Mphoko), I would like to bring the following facts to your attention: We entered into this partnership with a clear understanding of the shareholding of 93% to Choppies Enterprise and 7% to the Mphoko family, free of charge.”

But the Mphokos denied the 7% shares saying they were the majority shareholders in terms of Zimbabwean laws.

In their application, which was filed at the Bulawayo High Court, the Mphokos reiterated that at all material times they were majority shareholders in Choppies, holding an aggregate of 51% shares therein.

Indications are that the former VP held 25,5% shares, while Siqokoqela also held 25,5% shares in a joint venture identified as Nanavac Investments Pty ltd, and Choppies Enterprises held the remaining 49%.

Through their lawyer, the Mphokos said in, or about 2018, a dispute arose between Siqokoqela and Choppies resulting in Choppies instituting legal proceedings against him and his wife at the High Court.

“The 2nd defendant (Choppies) instituted malicious and false criminal complaints to the police resulting in the institution of the magistrates’ court proceeding in Bulawayo against the first plaintiff (Siqokoqela) and his wife. The first plaintiff and his wife were arrested and detained,” the lawyer stated.

The lawyer also stated that on January 9, 2019, in order to secure their freedom, Siqokoqela signed a deed of settlement with Choppies Enterprises in terms of which the Mphokos disposed of their shareholding in the company.

They said as per the deed of settlement, the Mphokos were to be paid US$2,9 million by Choppies for the acquisition of their full rights and title. The lawyer added that the deed of settlement, signed on January 2019, was void as the Mphokos signed it under duress after the arrest and detention of Siqokoqela and his wife on malicious and false charges, and unlawful stoppage of his salary.

Mphoko said he signed the deed of settlement fearing the continued persecution of his son and his daughter-in-law at the hands of the company.

They said Choppies paid the sum of US$2,9m (representing about 7% of the shareholding in the first defendant) in local currency when the shareholding was purportedly being acquired by a foreign entity in terms of the shareholders agreement of July 24, 2013.

The Mphokos are seeking an order declaring the deed of settlement unlawful through which they were divested of their entire shareholding in Choppies.

They also want US$22 585 714, as the true value of their 51% shareholding in Choppies.