/ 15 February 2019

Watchdogs check out Survé’s Ayo

Iqbal Survé
Iqbal Survé (David Harrison/M&G)

Regulatory bodies are closely monitoring Ayo Technology Solutions, the IT company in which media owner Iqbal Survé holds an indirect stake. The scrutiny follows reports about alleged impropriety and governance breaches by the entity’s management.

Ayo is majority-held by African Equity Empowerment Investments (AEEI), which has a 49% stake in the company. AEEI is held by Survé’s Sekunjalo Holdings.

A series of Sunday Times articles have had Survé at the centre, alleging that he instructed Ayo’s directors to lie to the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) about a key transaction, which informed the PIC’s decision to invest R4.3-billion in the company when it listed on the JSE.The transaction in question was the planned acquisition of British Telecoms SA, which was part of the investment case that Ayo put to the PIC when it applied for funding.

The PIC, which controls R2-trillion in state pension money and other assets, paid R43 a share for a 29% stake in Ayo, which market watchers and some PIC staff called overpriced.

According to the Sunday Times, Survé was heard in a voice recording of an August 2018 board meeting telling his directors to withhold the information that British Telecoms SA was no longer willing to sell its 30% shareholding held by AEEI to Ayo.

In a subsequent article in the Sunday Times, the paper reported that documents in its possession reveal that not long after the PIC deposited state workers’ pension money into Ayo’s accounts, attempts were made to move the money by dubious means into companies with links to Survé for his personal benefit.

Ayo’s former chief investment officer, Siphiwe Nodwele, told the paper that one of these schemes to shift R1.5-billion out of Ayo was explained as a way to move money out before bank accounts were frozen, as happened to the infamous Gupta brothers.

Survé has repeatedly denied all allegations of wrongdoing and impropriety levelled against him. (See the interview with Survé on page 8).

The Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) told the Mail & Guardian that it had noted the recent media reports involving Ayo.

“The governance surveillance and enforcement unit in CIPC has not yet received a complaint in respect of Ayo, however, we are monitoring media reports and intend to engage with representatives of PIC on the matter,” the CIPC said in an email.

The JSE confirmed that it had instituted a formal investigation into Ayo but could not disclose more because of confidentiality restrictions under Section 73 of the Financial Management Act.

“Our aim as the JSE is to protect the investor and it is of paramount importance that investors have full information in order to make informed investment decisions; however, the JSE cannot raise alarm when conducting investigations on any company as this might have a negative impact on shareholders before the JSE has made an actual finding,” said André Visser, the general manager for issuer regulations at the exchange.

Visser said the JSE would only communicate about Ayo once the facts were established and it became necessary to advise the company’s shareholders about issues such as whether the JSE’s listing requirements had been breached.

Controversy has dogged Ayo’s listing since it announced its intention to go public with the PIC’s backing in December 2017, as markets were on edge after retail giant Steinhoff’s crash.

Visser emphasised that, although media reports were helpful in providing leads on issues the JSE could investigate, this was not the only time the bourse had conducted investigations. “The JSE continuously and through various mechanisms and processes [is] able to detect potential breaches of the listings requirements and this will result in the JSE initiating a possible investigation.”

AEEI’s net value assets were given a significant boost after Ayo listed on the JSE with R4.3-billion of PIC money in the bank. In a Business Day report Independent Analyst Andrew Clark said because it appears like many were misled about the true nature of Ayo’s transaction, including the PIC, the JSE should consider suspending its listing.

Survé told the M&G that if Ayo, or his other companies were suspended it would be “extremely unfair”.

“Why would they do that on what bases and on what grounds. That’s crazy,” said Survé.

Survé said while he did not worry about whether his companies would be suspended from the bourse he does consider whether they should remain listed “if there is all this unbelievable negativity around it”.

“How do you operate as public companies on the JSE with all this negativity because ultimately you are listed on the JSE to raise capital,” said Survé. — additional reporting by Khadija Patel

Tebogo Tshwane is an Adamela Trust business journalist at the M&G