/ 15 December 2017

MultiChoice fracas dogs Naspers

Bull in a china shop: The woes of MultiChoice are visitng themselves on Naspers
Bull in a china shop: The woes of MultiChoice are visitng themselves on Naspers

Try as it might, it’s proving increasingly hard for Naspers to distance itself from the MultiChoice muddle — and now Chinese regulators have also been asked to investigate the matter.

SA First Forum, a community organisation, has formally requested that the Chinese Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) investigate allegations of corruption at Naspers and its subsidiary MultiChoice.

The forum believes the Chinese regulator has jurisdiction in the matter given that Naspers is the largest shareholder in TenCent, a social media giant in China and one of the largest internet companies in the world.

Evidence from emails dubbed the #Guptaleaks as well as leaked minutes from an SABC board meeting suggest that Naspers subsidiary MultiChoice exerted undue influence to sway a policy decision. The former minister of communications, Yunus Carrim, also told the Mail & Guardian how Naspers’s Koos Bekker had played a key role in the “aggressive” lobbying.

Advocate Rod Solomons, convenor of the SA First Forum, said: “There is zero accountability and no 
consequences for malfeasance in South Africa. The problem when you refer issues to regulatory authorities in South Africa, or even to the criminal justice system, is it 
just gets bogged down in bureaucracy. No one gives it adequate attention.”

Any penalty in this regard, he said, would probably be a slap on the wrist with no further implications.

“The JSE came with some mollycoddled statement, and only a few days after the matter broke,” Solomons said. “The National Prosecuting Authority is nowhere to be seen. The Hawks haven’t squeaked [even though] they deal with major economic crime. The president is sufficiently quiet. So is the minister of communications and the minister of finance. So who do you approach? But now we see more and more that international authorities are more inclined to apply the rule of law without fear or favour.”

China has embarked on a campaign to tackle financial risk, as was recently reaffirmed at the Communist Party Congress in October. The CSRC, a public institution, recently announced an investigation into 10 cases of alleged wrongdoing related to hedge funds. Last month it banned two people from the securities market for five years and fined them $181 000 for problems with their stock market disclosures.

But a source in Beijing told the M&G that the CSRC was not independent and usually appeared to have a political motivation in investigating cases.

If it were to look into Naspers, there would need to be a political agenda, the source said. “TenCent is swimming in money, but it could be that the government is not pleased that the majority shareholder there, Naspers, is foreign.”

Despite an insistence from Naspers that it had no hand in the MultiChoice dealings with government, Solomons said the SA First Forum did not accept that line, given that the Naspers chief executive sits on the MultiChoice board.

“All we are saying is let’s investigate and to get to the truth of this thing,” he said. “If it comes out Naspers is squeaky clean, then good for them.”

Solomons said the matter was public knowledge and that Naspers had been notified. The CSRC could not be reached for comment but the SA First Forum said it was in the process of following up its complaint with the commission. Naspers said it had not been approached in this regard.

In the United States, where Naspers shares are traded as American depository receipts, a law firm specialising in class action lawsuits, Pomerantz LLP, last week initiated an investigation and called on potentially affected parties to come forward.