Axed PIC investment manager says he's the fall guy for Dan Matjila, plans to challenge dismissal

The axed assistant portfolio manager of SA's state asset manager, Victor Seanie, has slammed his dismissal as unfair, saying he plans to challenge it to clear his name.

Seanie spoke to Fin24 by phone on Friday morning, a day after the Public Investment Corporation said in a statement he had been dismissed after a disciplinary process found him guilty of charges of "breaching the PIC's internal policies in investment decisions".

He was among employees implicated in irregularities identified in an internal PIC probe into the corporation's R4.3bn investment into AYO Technology Solutions in late 2017. AYO's share price has since fallen from R43 a share at listing to R5.60 a share. The PIC has engaged a litigation process to recover the R4.3bn investment with interest. Seanie was suspended in January along with the PIC's executive head of listed investments Fidelis Madavo.

He told Fin24 on Friday that the process instituted against him was that of a "kangaroo court", and he was the fall guy for the real culprits, who he named as PIC CEO Dan Matjila and Madavo. He said they were responsible for signing off on the deal.

Matjila, who resigned from the PIC in late November, has denied doing anything wrong in the AYO deal. Madavo told a commission of inquiry into the PIC that he was overseas at the time the transaction had taken place, Fin24 previously reported.

Seanie on Friday compared the matter brought against him to that of the Central Park Five – five teenagers who were wrongfully arrested and jailed for the rape of a jogger in Central Park, New York, in 1989. Eventually the real perpetrator of the crime was found and the Central Park Five were exonerated. Their story is depicted in a Netflix series, When they see us. In the show, authorities are shown to have been put under pressure to clamp down on crime in New York, which motivated the arrests of the boys.

Seanie said the matter against him is a "rerun" of When they see us, and that charges were instituted against him because Parliament had placed pressure on the PIC board to hold someone accountable for the AYO transaction.

First axing

He also disputed some of the statements made by the PIC's head of corporate affairs, Deon Botha, on his dismissal. In a statement issued on Thursday, Botha said that Seanie is one of "several senior investment professionals who went through or are undergoing, internal disciplinary proceedings, at this stage." But Seanie told Fin24 that he is not senior, relative to the other officials involved in the transaction. As far as he is aware, he is the only person that has been fired because of the AYO deal.

In his testimony to the inquiry in January, which followed his suspension from the PIC, Seanie had said his role in the R4.3bn investment was minor. He reiterated these views to Fin24 on Friday, saying he was the most junior person in the whole transaction. "I had the least decision-making power overall in making the AYO investment."

Botha, in the same statement announcing Seanie's dismissal, also said the disciplinary process was headed by an independent chairperson, which Seanie disputed. "The chairperson was not independent - he was hired by the PIC legal representative. I believe he was biased," he said.

As for the PIC's statement that Seanie was found to have breached internal policies, Seanie said there was "no material" breach on his part regarding the transaction.

According to Seanie, the chairperson of his disciplinary process as well as PIC witnesses who took part in it, acknowledged that his "prudent" action in calling for a due diligence process into AYO before the investment was made did not prejudice the PIC. The due diligence exercise is part of the vetting process, before the PIC commits to an investment, if at all.

The PIC has not made public the details of the charges levelled against Seanie, nor has it given information about his disciplinary process.

Not in favour of the deal

In his role as an assistant portfolio manager of listed investments, Seanie on Friday said he worked as an analyst and was even referred to as an analyst by general manager for listed equities, Lebogang Molebatsi. Seanie said he would analyse a company and communicate his views to the portfolio manager Sunil Varghese. These views would be communicated to executives higher up  – at the time of the AYO deal they were Molebatsi, Madavo and Matjila.

He said neither he, Varghese and Molebatsi were in agreement with the deal, but that Matjila and Madavo trumped their views and pushed the deal because they were in "cahoots" with businessman Survé.  He also previously told the commission that the process followed in the AYO investment was unusual, and that the investment was driven because of the relationship that existed between Survé and Matjila. 

AYO is an information technology company. It is majority held by African Equity Empowerment Investments, which in turn is held by Cape Town businessman Iqbal Survé's Sekunjalo Investment Holdings. The commission of inquiry heard from several PIC witnesses that AYO's market cap was overstated at the time the PIC invested in it. AYO has denied there was anything wrong with the deal, and said the PIC's investments are sound. 

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