Survé keeping Independent Media afloat, PIC inquiry hears

Media mogul Iqbal Survé wanted more money from the Public Investment Corporation (PIC) despite having received R4.3-billion from the state-owned asset manager.

On Wednesday, Survé told the commission of inquiry — which is investigating allegations of wrongdoing at the PIC — that he tried to get more money to invest in Independent Media but the PIC did not respond to his written requests.

Survé was being cross-examined after he testified on Tuesday about allegations of impropriety and the R4.3-billion investment received from the PIC which was allegedly issued without following proper procedure.

The controversial businessperson told the commission that the Independent Media group cannot service its debt of R1.34-billion, explaining his company Sekunjalo is supporting it with funding.

READ MORE: Survé denies any personal relationship with Matjila

He said he is servicing the interest bill of loans from a Chinese consortium and not to the PIC which invested R850-million. Sekunjalo invested an amount of R150-million and the Chinese investors put up R1-billion.

“Independent Media is what gives me sleepless nights because I have to balance the need to keep people employed with advertising moving in a tough media climate. I have approached the PIC for recapitalisation of Independent Media, but the PIC has refused to engage us,” Survé said.

He added that he would not consider retrenching workers without having discussions with the PIC: “Maybe the problem is the specific members of the PIC responsible for this portfolio have left — but we have written to them and they have not responded to us at all.”

READ MORE: Survé compares Sagarmatha to Uber, says it would have been valued at $10bn

Publications housed under the Independent Media umbrella have fielded allegations of unfair and biased news reporting, which Survé vehemently denied. “I can give you a copy of letters I send to the editors saying they should not be taking sides,” adding that he only tells them to use journalistic codes of fair reporting and not taking sides.

Survé said if Sekunjalo stops funding the media group, the PIC will suffer because it is the equity holder.

While he is not servicing his Independent Media loan, Survé told the PIC commission the investment corporation should not waste pensioners’ money through litigation over the controversial R4.3-billion invested in Ayo Technology Solutions in December 2017.

READ MORE: Court victory for Ayo in PIC R4.3bn repayment case

Last month, the PIC moved to distance itself from any notion that it is working with Ayo to oppose a compliance notice issued by the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission instructing it to retrieve the R4.3-billion it invested in Ayo. Survé said there was no wrongdoing involved and that all shareholders will benefit from Ayo utilising the PIC funds according to its undertakings.

Survé said Sagarmatha Technologies, another company of his, could have been a good investment had the PIC invested in it. In 2018, the company failed to list on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange after it was unable to secure R3-billion from the Public Investment Corporation.

Lebohang Molebatsi, a general manager for listed equities, previously told the PIC that discussions with Sagarmatha revealed that its valuation was significantly lower than that requested by the company in its initial public offering, but Sagarmatha was not willing to lower its expectations. In mid-March, Molebatsi said that a fair value was R7.06 per share, compared to the IPO asking price R39.62 per share.

Survé claimed Sagarmatha was a good investment stating: “The PIC’s biggest risk is Naspers, if the Chinese government decides to stop gaming with children, Naspers and Tencent will collapse — they are heavy weighted in one share.

“Sagarmatha is a great opportunity for the PIC to diversify their risk — its and African company that wants to control and own data for Africa.”

Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe
Tshegofatso Mathe is a financial trainee journalist at the Mail & Guardian.
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