Hawks eye SAA’s wine woman

2015-02-22 15:00

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The Hawks are investigating the relationship between the suspended food and beverage head of national carrier SAA and a wine merchant, from whom the airline bought millions of rands’ worth of wine.

The relationship between Bongi Sodladla – who oversaw the purchase of thousands of crates of wine to be served aboard SAA flights – and a posh Western Cape wine farm is also being probed.

The Anura wine farm, near Paarl and Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, supplied wine to the merchant, who has now been linked to Sodladla.

Anura’s owners deny that they knew of Sodladla and the merchant’s connection.

SAA has been investigating Sodladla since the beginning of this year and this week the Hawks confirmed they had begun their own probe.

Sodladla was suspended after her estranged husband sent a letter to SAA at the end of last year in which he claimed his wife had received bribes for years from local wine farms in exchange for lucrative orders from the airline.

Sodladla has repeatedly denied this and other allegations made against her in the letter, but an investigation by City Press’ sister paper Rapport shows that:

»Liberty Vintners, which has sold wine to SAA worth more than R6?million, is closely linked to Sodladla. In her estranged husband’s letter, it is alleged that Nontle Somdaka, Liberty Vintners’ only listed director, is Sodladla’s cousin.

Sodladla denies she has a cousin in the wine industry, but City Press’ investigation suggests the two are at least very close. Somdaka did not want to comment.

Records from the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC) show that Sodladla and Somdaka share the same postbox address in Sandton.

A website created in 2008 for Sodladla’s wedding also lists Somdaka as one of the organisers.

The email address linked to the Liberty Vintners website is registered in the name of Sodladla’s estranged husband.

A source with knowledge of SAA’s wine contracts confirmed that Liberty Vintners had, to date, invoiced the airline for wine worth more than R6?million.

»Liberty Vintners doesn’t produce its own wine; it sources it from the Anura farm. Tymen Bouma, who owns and manages Anura, said Liberty Vintners was merely a client.

“We have been contracted to supply wines to them, as other bottling agencies may have been. We bottle wine for numerous customers with private labels,” Bouma wrote in an email to City Press.

Over the past six years – apart from in 2013 – Anura has managed to secure the largest wine orders from SAA among scores of wine farms that try to have their tipple served on flights.

The Bouma family this week stated in a letter from their lawyer that Sodladla’s husband, Wonga, introduced them to Liberty Vintners.

They maintain their contact person at Liberty Vintners was a Russel Scott and they never met him in person, instead dealing with him via email and over the phone.

However, the cellphone number the Boumas said they used to contact Scott belongs to Wonga Sodladla, whose second name is Russel.

“My clients were not [and are not] aware of the fact that Wonga Sodladla was or is involved in the setting up or running of Liberty. Wonga Sodladla at all times stressed he was only acting as a consultant for Liberty,” the Boumas’ lawyer wrote in his letter.

»City Press had earlier established that Liberty Vintners’ registered postal address at the CIPC was the one that featured on Anura’s website.

Bouma said this was an error. “Our website was revamped and this must have resulted in the error of the two postal addresses?...” he wrote in an email.

Anura’s postal address was subsequently changed on the wine farm’s website, but several wine-related websites still list Anura’s address as the same one Liberty Vintners used for its CIPC registration.

» In the letter from their lawyer, the Bouma family admits Sodladla and her husband stayed at Anura “for one night on two separate occasions”.

Sodladla also stayed at the farm on her own on a further “one or possibly two occasions”, it says in the letter.

The family also admits that Sodladla and her husband stayed at their holiday home in St Francis Bay for “one night on one occasion some two years ago”.

They maintain that SAA was aware of these visits.

“Tymen Bouma?...?has met with Bongi Sodladla at OR Tambo [airport] while in transit or on business in Johannesburg.

“These meetings were purely aimed at cementing an existing business relationship – nothing more and nothing less,” stated the letter.

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