PIC says liquidation bid against Sekunjalo Ind. Media 'strictly commercial' after Magashule, others, question motives

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The Public Investment Corporation has hit back at claims its liquidation application against Sekunjalo Independent Media (SIM) is an assault on media freedom and the transformation of SA's media landscape. 

The state-run asset manager, which invests on behalf of state employees, issued a statement on Thursday morning about its position in reaction to what it called suggestions by "several political parties and individuals". It did not name the parties or say who made the comments. 

But the it has recently been criticised by, among others, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule and deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte for its application against SIM. 

SIM is a special purpose holding company set up in 2013 to buy out Independent Media SA from its former Irish owners. It owns 55% of Independent Media – the parent company of titles The Star, the Cape Times, the Weekend Argus and the website iol.co.za. Businessman Iqbal Survé, the executive chairperson of investment holding company Sekunjalo, is also the chairperson of Independent Media. 

The PIC said in mid-November that it lodged a liquidation application in the Western Cape High Court against SIM in order to recoup a 2013 loan which it said that the company had not paid back. SIM has denied it owes the PIC anything, saying the application is "frivolous". 

The asset manager on Thursday reiterated that the liquidation application was lodged due to "Sekunjalo's failure to honour its loan repayment obligations for an outstanding loan advanced by the GEPF [Government Employees Pension Fund]".

t said this was in line with its "legal obligation and responsibility to ensure appropriate action and interventions are undertaken to protect value of assets under its management for the benefit of its clients".

Magashule, in a column published on iol.co.za on December 1, questioned the motives behind the liquidation application, saying he had faced genuine questions from "worried comrades".

"They are concerned that there is much more here than meets the eye and that SIM is being singled out, not because of financial irregularities, or specifically its alleged breach of contractual commitments to the PIC, but because of the independent positions and reporting of its newspapers and the very influential Independent Online."

Magashule said that if the liquidation was linked to financial irregularities, then the PIC should put equal effort in clamping down on retailer  Steinhoff which committed "massive fraud" which resulted in losses to the state asset manager.

"The other culprits who have cost the PIC money, due to massive fraud (euphemistically called 'accounting irregularities'), among others are: EOH, Tongaat Hulett - all of them white-owned," Magashule said.

In an separate opinion piece published on iol.co.za on November 25, Duarte questioned why the PIC had not initiated liquidation proceedings against other companies. 

In mid-November, meanwhile, she told iol.co.za that the ANC was "applying our minds to what the cause of this [liquidation application] really is but I can tell you that this makes no sense."

The PIC, which has about R2.1trn under management, on Thursday said suggestions that its liquidation big was "tantamount to assault on media freedom and against transformation of media ownership" was "ill-informed and misplaced".

"As a matter of principle, the PIC is fully committed to media freedom and the advancement of black businesses in this sector.

"The legal matter between the PIC and SIM is of a commercial nature and any suggestion to the contrary should be rejected outright," the PIC said. 

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