/ 9 July 2020

Battle over R6bn workers’ retirement fund

Zamani Letjane
Fundamental: Zamani Letjane is the managing director of Akani Holdings, one of the administrators battling out a dispute in court over the management of the R6-billion retirement fund belonging to members of the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union. (Paul Botes/M&G)

Allegations of corruption, corporate espionage and the peddling of trade secrets are at the centre of a battle over a R6-billion workers’ pension fund. 

The battle over the retirement fund for the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (Ceppwawu) is being waged between the fund administrator, NBC Holdings and alleged usurpers, Akani Holdings.  

Akani was appointed as administrator in December.

The union represents 21 600 workers and Ceppwawu’s lucrative investment portfolio reportedly includes shares in Aspen, Sasol, Nampak and Transpaco.

In what has become an increasingly acrimonious fight, now being heard before the Johannesburg high court, Akani has been accused of poaching two of NBC’s representatives on the fund’s board, apparently using a funeral service that is registered to Akani’s managing director to employ the pair. 

NBC have, in turn, been accused of sending a junior staffer to spy on Akani, offering the mole R300 for his troubles. 

NBC had been administering the Chemical Industries National Provident Fund (CINPF) for nearly three decades. The disharmony started with the CINPF board of trustees making numerous complaints against NBC for charging exorbitant fees. This resulted in their instituting a forensic investigation into the conduct of NBC.

The forensic report, conducted by Gobodo Investigative and Accounting, shows how funds were moved from one fund manager to another, resulting in a Sandton-based investments company, Avior Capital Markets allegedly siphoning R53-million.

After the Gobodo report, trustees voted to move certain services from NBC, to Akani Holdings in 2019.

Some members of the CINPF, joined by NBC, however, have challenged the appointment of Akani on the basis that it was made on “false and misleading information” fed to the CINPF’s trustees as well as allegations of corruption on the part of Akani and others.

The matter is set to appear before court again this month as NBC alleges that the trustees were manipulated by several of its employees who worked with Akani to destroy its relations with the fund.

In a leaked NBC staff memo, issued by the board of directors on December 2 2019, it states their suspicions of the notice to terminate its services as a “result of betrayal, executed over time by persons employed and entrusted with the custody and services of this important client”.

The memo further states “it is clear that the betrayal has been executed in collusion with external parties keen to get access to this fund and the retirement savings…”

At the centre of this are two former employees — Victor Chaane and Sipho Ginya — who are accused of selling trade secrets.

“Our suspicion was confirmed on Friday afternoon when the resignation with immediate effect of Chaane and that of his direct subordinate Ginya were received from a Germiston-based lawyer acting on their behalf,” the memo reads.

Ginya, Chaane and members of their team were consultants to the CINPF and managed the relationship between NBC and the fund. 

NBC claims to have uncovered numerous payments from Neighbour Funeral Services, a company owned by the managing director of Akani, Zamani Letjane, to Ginya and Chaane. 

In a responding affidavit Letjane says the pair approached him for jobs after their resignation at NBC. 

In court papers NBC suggests a carefully considered plot by the two to undermine their business with CINPF.

NBC says its investigations have revealed that Chaane and Ginya had several meetings with Letjane days and weeks before the CINPF board passed the resolution to fire NBC, on November 21 and 22 last year. 

Although Chaane and Ginya and members of their team were in that meeting, they only informed NBC about the decision on November 28. NBC says by that time it had heard of the decision through unofficial channels. The company says it confronted the two on November 29 but they immediately submitted resignation letters through an attorney.

In little more than two weeks, Akani would be appointed as new contractors.

On November 27 a sub-committee set up by the CINPF board invited Akani and 10 other companies to submit bids to take over NBC’s contracts with the pension fund. 

A day after that meeting Akani submitted a bid for most of the contracts that NBC had lost. 

On December 6 the same sub-committee of the CINPF board made a shortlist of three bidders to be considered for these contracts. Akani made its presentation to the sub-committee on December 11 and was appointed. The sub-committee then conducted a due diligence into Akani’s abilities at their offices a day later. On December 13 Akani’s appointment was ratified by the full board.

Other allegations by NBC are that the trustees violated the fund’s rules and failed to consult certain structures before the decision.

NBC themselves also allegedly engaged in nefarious practices once their multi-billion rand contract with the workers fund proved at risk. 

In supporting court papers, bank statements and WhatsApp messages, NBC’s head of legal and compliance, Lieb van Zyl, seemingly ordered a former junior member to visit Akani under false pretences as a means to spy on the company. He later sent R300 via EFT to the former employee’s personal account to cover petrol costs to Akani’s Gauteng offices on the East Rand.

In a supporting affidavit, the former junior employee states how he was offered a pay increase and promotion if he would sign a false affidavit about the happenings at Akani’s offices. 

Separately, a chain of leaked emails sets out in great detail how NBC plotted to destabilise Ceppwawu in attempts to win back their business. 

At the centre of this is said to be former general secretary of Ceppwawu, Simon Mofokeng, who now works as an advisor to NBC’s chief executive Bassie Maisela. 

The politically connected Mofokeng allegedly tried to persuade factions within the union to sway their votes towards NBC. While secretary general, Mofokeng was accused of using his position to try and influence a questionable R60-million deal involving Sasol. He was also the subject of a court bid to remove him as director of the union’s investments. He was later dismissed in 2017, after failing to attend an internal disciplinary hearing.

NBC has held the union contract for nearly three decades. Both NBC and Akani said they were not “fighting” over the contract but are engaging in a legal dispute on the matter.

Van Zyl said the fund is involved in “a legal dispute between certain CINPF members and NBC on the one hand and CINPF and its board of trustees on the other”.

NBC brought its application against CINPF and its trustees in February 2020, to have decisions taken by them in November and December 2019 set aside on an urgent basis. 

Judge Bashier Vally ruled that the CINPF should be interdicted from implementing the appointment of Akani as the fund’s administrator and that the NBC should continue rendering all services to the fund until the matter is heard and finalised on July 31. 

The judge also found that the allegations of corruption against Akani, Chaane, Ginya and others implicated could not be ignored. The judge said it is for the court to ultimately decide if the termination of NBC’s contract and the appointment of Akani was lawful.

This article was supported by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.