Gupta puppets or free agents? Let the court decide
The business rescue practitioners for Gupta firms say an application to have them removed is tantamount to defamation
Two business rescue practitioners appointed to oversee some of the embattled Gupta businesses are on the warpath after having to defend themselves against court action to have them removed.
An urgent court application to challenge the appointment of Louis Klopper and Kurt Knoop is set to be heard in the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday.
Deriko Mining and Exploration director Andile Qaku brought the application, saying the pair are “not independent” and were appointed to “do the bidding of their masters”, in an apparent reference to the Gupta family.
But Klopper and Knoop have hit back, challenging Qaku’s standing to bring the application and accusing him of defamation.Eight Gupta-linked companies, including Tegeta Resources, Optimum Coal Mine and Shiva Uranium, that had filed for business rescue, resolved in February to appoint Klopper and Knoop.Klopper told Times Select on Friday that if the urgent court application against them failed, their next step would be to sue for defamation. He threatened to sue Rudi Kruger, the attorney acting on behalf of Qaku, for comments he made in the media where he was quoted as saying they were tainted by the Guptas.Times Select understands that Deriko was registered in January and Qaku was appointed as a director in February.
Qaku is asking the court to set aside the appointment of Knoop and Klopper and appoint new business rescue practitioners. In his founding affidavit he sets out several reasons he believes the appointments are irregular.
“[Optimum Mine] was a fundamental instrument of the institutional fraud and theft [by] the Gupta family,” the affidavit reads.
“Whoever becomes the business rescue practitioner of [Optimum] must be beyond suspicion. It is not enough to say that one did not do anything wrong yet, or that there is no proof of such wrongdoing.“Their [the Guptas’] method of appointing puppet directors who are compliant to their wishes is now well documented.
“The Gupta family has no interest in a skilled and independent individual who acts in accordance with his specialist knowledge and conscience.
“It is for this reason that it is clear the current business rescue practitioners have been installed by the director of the second respondent as part of a stratagem to immunise the second respondent against the growing wave of its creditors and other stakeholders claiming money from it whilst at the same time remain in a position where the bidding of their Gupta masters can be done without fear of interference.”But Klopper and Knoop, in answering papers, said the application lacked urgency and that Qaku had no standing to bring the application.
Knoop said Qaku’s application relied on “speculation, conjecture and inference”.
“Like most South Africans, I am aware of the negative press, allegations, reports, discussions, comments and sentiments circulating in the public domain concerning the Guptas and their involvement in corrupt activities and state capture.
“The applicant’s baseless assertions that [Knoop and Klopper] are simply there to do the illicit bidding of the Gupta family and will act as their puppets in continuation of the alleged fraud already perpetrated by them, are unlawful and defamatory.”
Knoop also points out that Deriko is a “brand-new shelf company” with no prior dealings with Optimum, and asks that for the reasons he set out, the application should be struck off the roll.
Qaku’s company, Deriko Mining, earlier this year “bought” the debt Optimum allegedly owed Bakone Technical Services, a company that provided labour services to the mine.