Last gasp for Guptas' VR Laser

A last-ditch attempt to stop the winding down of the Gupta family’s VR Laser was squashed in court this week, clearing the path for its business rescue practitioners to auction off the company’s machinery on Thursday.

A consortium in the making endorsed by the National Union of Metalworkers of SA went to court to stop the auction and instead made the rescue practitioners an offer.

It was the latest in a series of strangely timed offers for the company and held out the possibility that the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma could recoup up to R300 million from otherwise worthless intercompany loans on VR Laser’s books.

Under the current winding down, they will recover at best 9% of this money, if that.

The consortium was being advised by Crede Capital Partners, the manager of the Defence Industry Fund, an initiative of the armaments industry and government earlier this year to fund new entrants in the weapons sector.

The Public Investment Corporation confirmed it had been approached to join the consortium and that the proposal was “being subjected to an internal investment process, after which a decision will be made”.

VR Laser is one of eight Gupta companies voluntarily put under business rescue early this year.

Rescue practitioner Kurt Knoop said in an affidavit this week that the offer was far-fetched and relied on Denel reinstating orders related to its Hoefyster project to procure Badger armoured vehicles.

VR laser lost all its contracts with state-owned Denel and is in court pursuing the R30 million Denel owes it.

According to Knoop, the management of Denel had conveyed it would not under any circumstances do business with a Gupta company again.

The new offer to buy VR Laser comes after the rescue proceedings had already been forced to stop and start several times by a series of suspicious and oddly timed buyout offers.

Two came from groups controlled by Thulani Ngubane, one of the directors of the infamous Aurora Empowerment Systems.

Another offer, which came to naught, was made by Gupta executive Ravindra Nath, ostensibly on behalf of Salim Essa.

“In these circumstances, I pray that this court does not fault with us for having serious well-founded concerns regarding the actual identities of members of this consortium and any consortiums of a similar nature,” Knoop said in his affidavit.

Apart from selling assets and chasing debts owed by Denel, the rescue practitioners of VR Laser also plan to issue summons against VRLS Properties, the company that owns the premises of VR Laser, but is not in business rescue.

It owes VR Laser a deposit of R16 million, according to the business rescue plan.

This landlord has been the reason some early offers to buy VR Laser failed – they could not get VRLS Properties to also sell them the property.

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