Two months before SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni tried to introduce a new company into a R6 billion Airbus deal, the company in question was hauled to court over unpaid tax bills.
Myeni shocked her own staff, Airbus and Treasury when, in September last year, she tried to introduce an unknown “third party” into SAA’s deal to buy five Airbus A330 planes at the eleventh hour.
Her proposal threatened to derail a delicately negotiated “swap transaction” that Treasury had reached with Airbus. The consequences, according to the memo at the time of SAA’s then chief financial officer, Wolf Meyer, could have been catastrophic, leading to a domino effect as banks and creditors called up billions of rands of SAA’s debts.
It later emerged that the company Myeni wanted to bring into the deal was Quartile Capital, an investment group based in Illovo, Johannesburg, and run by Harmony Gold nonexecutive deputy chairperson Modise Motloba.
It has been reported that Myeni wrote to the SAA board to get approval to bypass normal tender procedures in appointing Quartile Capital due to the apparent urgency of her Airbus deal.
City Press has now established that the company Myeni saw as SAA’s saviour was hauled to court twice by the SA Revenue Service (Sars) for failing to pay more than R1.8 million in value-added tax (VAT).
The first judgment was obtained in November 2013 for R318 310 in unpaid VAT.
The second judgment, for R1 505 789 in unpaid VAT, was obtained in July 2015. It was at the same time as then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was putting the finishing touches to the Airbus swap transaction.
This week Sars spokesperson Sandile Memela confirmed the judgments against Quartile Capital. He would not confirm whether the company had since settled the debts, saying “Sars does not comment on taxpayers’ tax affairs”.
He did, however, confirm that if a judgment was still listed against a company’s name, it would indicate the debt had not been paid.
“A judgment against a taxpayer is removed once the debt has been settled. Sars sends a withdrawal notice to the court, which is confirmed by the court,” he explained.
In addition to this, Memela confirmed that Sars had also obtained a judgment for R88 841 against Motloba in his personal capacity in July 2015.
Motloba does not dispute these judgments, saying: “It is normal for businesses and individuals to have matters and disagreements or disputes with Sars about amounts owing or outstanding.
“Quartile Capital Holdings and its group of companies are not an exception to this reality. We have always engaged with Sars about our tax obligations and resolved these tax matters as and when they arise,” said Motloba.
He added that the tax issues had been resolved, but he declined to say whether that meant the debts had been paid.
Myeni’s attempt to allegedly bring Quartile Capital in through the back door raises further questions, considering that Quartile Capital’s R1.8 million of unpaid tax debt would have prevented the company from being given a certificate of tax compliance from Sars – one of the most basic hurdles a company has to pass if it wants to do business with the state.
According to Treasury regulations, government departments and state-owned entities may only do business with a company without tax-compliant status with approval from Treasury, and only under “exceptional circumstances”.
In a written response, SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali said: “If [Quartile Capital] was one of our service providers or suppliers, their services would have been procured in accordance with SAA supply chain policy and in compliance with all relevant legislation.”
Motloba declined to say whether Quartile Capital was tax compliant at the time Myeni proposed introducing them to the Airbus deal, but said that as “good corporate citizens” they had “always fully complied with all procurement requirements, including tax obligations, when requested to do so by clients, both in the public and private sectors”.
“Quartile Capital Holdings is a group of companies made up of wholly owned subsidiaries,” said Motloba.
He added: “Had we been appointed or mandated to advise on either of the [SAA] deals or both, we would have used our dedicated corporate advisory subsidiary, Quartile Capital Advisory, which had a valid tax-clearance certificate in the second half
Myeni’s bid to bring Quartile Capital on board was eventually canned by Nene, although it went down to the wire with the announcement that the SAA board had agreed to stick to Treasury’s plan being made just hours before the deal was due to lapse.
One consequence of the deal lapsing would have been that SAA would have immediately had to make additional predelivery payments of $40 million (R618 million) to Airbus.
It has also been widely reported that Nene’s refusal to allow Myeni to bring Quartile Capital into the deal was believed to have been a major contributor to his removal as finance minister.