Master blocks release of Aurora report for fear of defamation claims

2014-01-26 06:00

The Master of the High Court has refused to release a damning report into the looting of the Grootvlei and Orkney mines for fear of being sued by the politically connected directors of Aurora Empowerment Systems.

This week, Christine Rossouw, deputy master of the North Gauteng High Court, told City Press she would not make public the report of an inquiry into the collapse of the empowerment deal – in which the mines were allegedly stripped of more than R500 million in assets and saw 5 300 jobs destroyed – which she had appointed in terms of the Companies Act.

The inquiry, held in camera, heard evidence that the directors of Aurora – President Jacob Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Zondwa, Zuma’s legal adviser Michael Hulley and businessman Thulani Ngubane – had presided over the stripping of assets from the two mines, which Aurora scooped in a R1.7 billion empowerment deal.

Its report and recommendations – which insiders say include laying criminal charges against the directors and management – were handed to Rossouw in October.

While the media was denied access to the hearing to protect witnesses, an unsuccessful court application by Ngubane to limit the scope of the Section 417/418 application and stop the inquiry from accessing Aurora’s bank records heard evidence from liquidators that R122 million in gold sales was paid to the directors and their managers, including Faizel Bhana and Solly Bhana, while workers and creditors were not paid.

The liquidators are also pursuing the directors in their individual capacities, with an application set down for August.

Rossouw said while she did not suggest the matter was privileged, she was not willing to release it and face potential defamation action.

“The report makes credibility findings against witnesses, makes ‘findings’ of fact that are prejudicial to witnesses and other persons referred to in testimony and recommends a course of action to be taken. The report will be potentially defamatory of persons referred to ... if the master released the report to the press, know that the press will in turn publish it, the master may well become the defendant in a series of defamation action(s),’’ she said.

Rossouw said she had also been advised not to make the recommendations public before taking the action the inquiry suggested.

She said the inquiry was “not an adversary process in terms whereof both sides of any story could have been properly ventilated,’’ and that it would be “most unfair’’ to release a report “based on matters where potential defendants and respondents have not had an opportunity to put forward their side of the story”.

Rossouw did not elaborate on when a decision would be taken on the recommendations.

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