Minister and lawyer in defamation court battle

2011-10-15 12:36

A R15-million defamation lawsuit against Department of Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, filed by a lawyer accused of hijacking a Joburg company, will be reheard after the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria rescinded an earlier judgment.

Attorney Matane Mphahlele claimed an official in Davies’ department, through the former Companies and Intellectual Property Registration Office (Cipro, now the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission), defamed him by saying he was a fraudster.

Mphahlele succeeded in his initial unopposed court application in April. But in June, Davies launched an urgent application to set aside Mphahlele’s victory.

Judge Brian Southwood ruled in Davies’ favour last month, rescinding and setting aside what would have been one of South Africa’s biggest defamation damages awards.

The matter will now be heard in February after Southwood gave the minister until September 8 to file his notice to defend the matter.

According to court papers, the battle between Mphahlele and Davies started when department official Louise Kritzinger told Brooks and Brand, the law firm representing Joburg-based Tension Overhead Electrification, that “all fraudulent information was removed” from the Cipro database.

Kritzinger was referring to Tension Overhead’s successful application to remove Mphahlele, Kentse Makgae, Mpini Khumalo, Osvaldo Brachini,Thomas Mphahlele and company secretary CFP Management Services from its list of directors in June last year.

Tension Overhead interdicted and restrained them from being the firm’s directors and secretary.

Mphahlele said the department and Cipro meant that he misled Cipro by saying he was a Tension Overhead director and that he was corrupt, untrustworthy, a fraudster, was not a law-abiding citizen, a coward and without any moral fibre.

City Press has established that Mphahlele’s company, Africa Heritage Investments (AHI), was Tension Overhead’s BEE partner.

However, Tension Overhead disputed this in court, saying Mphahlele sold his stake in AHI, which is now in liquidation and owed Investec millions of rand.

Mphahlele said he had been awarded a default judgment and received a warrant of execution against Davies.

He complained that Southwood had unprocedurally gone out of his way to inform Davies and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan of his “victory”, which alerted Davies to apply for the matter to be rescinded.

In his judgment, Southwood said it was “inappropriate to deal with the matter on an unopposed basis”.

Company hijackings have rocked the country of late. In the past year alone, 40 companies were hijacked on the Cipro database.
These were, among others, Deloitte Consulting, Fujitsu Services, Coca-Cola Africa and Vaal Maseru Bus Services.

The only alleged company hijackers to face criminal charges were late controversial businessman Sandile Majali, Stephan Khoza, Haralambos Sferopoulous and Bongani Ndala.

They were charged with fraud for allegedly changing the directorship of mining company Kalahari Resources and removing its directors, siblings Brian Mashile and Daphne Mashile-Nkosi, from the Cipro database.

Davies’ spokesperson Sidwell Medupe did not respond to City Press’ enquiries.

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