Gupta-linked VR Laser hopes for a sale

One of Denel's aeroplanes.
One of Denel's aeroplanes.

Cash-strapped, Gupta-linked company VR Laser is hoping to free up cash through a possible sale, as well as a R40m claim against Denel. 

VR Laser employees have not been paid in two months, but business rescue practitioner Coronado’s Louis Klopper hopes this will change. He said creditors met on Thursday to vote on a plan to sell the company to a new owner. 

It has been reported that since VR Laser went into business rescue, none of the employees have been paid. 

The cash flow problems appear to be due, in part, to money owed to the company that remains unpaid. 

Growing debt

Klopper said VR Laser had a claim of about R3m with Optimum Coal Mine for services rendered. He said VR Laser staff were involved in the maintenance of the draglines at the mine. Klopper also said that at the time of business rescue proceedings, the company had a claim against Denel of about R26m for delivered goods. 

"Since then, the claim has grown in excess of R40m. Denel says it has not got money to pay their outstanding debt and will see if something can be paid by this month end," Klopper said. 

State-owned arms dealer Denel has also faced cash flow problems in recent months.

In December it did not have enough money to pay staff salaries, but was saved through an emergency government loan guarantee of R580m to pay employees and suppliers.

Denel said that as confirmed in the past, it is dealing with liquidity challenges. 

"We are working very closely with the shareholder department, the DPE as well as the National Treasury, and a number of commercial banks to find short- to medium-term solutions to the severe liquidity challenges the company is faced with," said Denel spokesperson Vuyelwa Qinga.

Qinga said that Denel's suppliers had been negatively affected by this situation, and that VR Laser supplied fabrication on vehicle hulls to Denel Vehicle Systems and Denel Land Systems, so it was possible they were also affected. 

"At this point I am unable to divulge specific details of the amounts owed to any of our suppliers," she said. 

Qinga said a payment plan is in place. 

Illegal rifle imports

News24 has also learnt that one of VR Laser’s senior employees has been debarred from doing business with the US government, because he allegedly imported rifle barrels without the proper documentation.

In 2014, a retired US Army Major pleaded guilty to receiving unlawful pay while working in the military, and to unlawfully shipping firearms to South Africa without a license. 

According to a press release by the US Department of Justice at the time, Dennis Haag admitted that in late 2011 and early 2012, he and his wife Judi Haag received about $40 000 to represent a South African firm, VR Laser, that had an interest in obtaining military contacts. They said there was no evidence that VR Laser actually obtained any contract as a result of this arrangement. 

"Dennis Haag was also a federally licensed firearms dealer and admitted that on multiple occasions from 2008-2012 he unlawfully exported sport rifles and rifle parts to a South African acquaintance who worked with VR Laser," the press release said. 

News24 has learnt that the employee was VR Laser’s International Business Development Manager at the time, Pieter Grundlingh. He travelled to the US numerous times as part of his job. 

He is currently a senior manager at the business.  

The US Army debarred Grundlingh in 2016. This means that he is excluded from doing business with the US government as a representative, agent or contractor. 

The army said that in 2015, Grundlingh’s partner, Errol de Montille, pleaded guilty to making a false statement to a federal agency. 

According to documents News24 has seen, he transported three rifle barrels without proper authorisation from the United States to South Africa in order to assist Haag to deliver the barrels to Grundlingh in South Africa. 

Fraudulent labels

The documents said that Haag fraudulently labelled the rifle barrels as tent stakes on the shipping declarations in order to conceal the true nature of the shipments from custom and border control agents. The army said Grundlingh was aware of the scheme and they had emails between him and Haag which showed them planning to bring in the rifle barrels. 

Grundlingh admitted to News24 that he had been debarred by the US Army, but said he was innocent. VR Laser was not involved, he added. 

"I was not aware of my disbarment until late last year as I do believe I did nothing wrong," he said. 

Grundlingh said the US government had issued a permit to De Montille to export firearms in his personal capacity. 

He said that because of this, and the Guptas, he had lost his house and his family. 

"My life has been destroyed," Grundlingh said. 

Klopper said he had no knowledge of Grundlingh’s debarment and he would enquire about it. 

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