Zuma told Dudu Myeni to block SAA-Emirates code sharing agreement, court hears

Proceedings in a civil case aimed at having former SAA board chairperson Dudu Myeni declared a delinquent director finally got underway at the High Court in Pretoria on Wednesday, after the court dismissed attempts to appeal earlier judgments against her.

The case, brought by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) and SAA Pilots Association, has been hit by numerous delays since it was lodged, including attempts to challenge the involvement of OUTA in the case.

On Wednesday, Advocate Carol Steinberg’s opening statement sought to demonstrate how Myeni’s tenure as board chair at the embattled state-owned airline, which is currently in business rescue, undermined governance structures. 

The court heard of Myeni’s allegedly increasing interference with the running of the airline, as she shifted power away from the executive to the board.

She is also said to have changed the SAA supply chain management policy in 2016, to give the board sweeping power over procurement decisions.

The amendment took place as little-known BnP Capital was awarded a contract to advise SAA on the restructure of its R15bn debt.

The company won the contract ahead of established financial institutions, despite having no major profile. The appointment of BnP has featured in testimony delivered at the State Capture inquiry, with former SAA treasurer, Cynthia Stimpel, stating that due process was not followed.

The R256m BnP Capital contract was cancelled by late July 2016.

Steinberg also said Myeni in 2015 blocked a code sharing agreement with Emirates "at the eleventh hour", telling interim CEO Nico Bezuidenhout to not to sign.

She told the court the reason for the abrupt decision was that former president Jacob Zuma "says no". Fin24 understands that Bezuidenhout is one of the key witnesses expected to testify in the hearing in the coming days.

Steinberg further told the court that the scuppering of the code sharing deal not only cost SAA potential income, but that airline also suffered reputational damage as a result. 

Opening SAA to new routes would have "opened a whole new world for SAA in the Middle East", she said.

The hearing was expected to get underway in October and had been set down for five weeks. Myeni, who was SAA board chairperson from from December 2012 to October 2017, has been a no-show since it started.

OUTA claims the airline recorded losses up R16.844bn over that period.

On Wednesday, proceedings got off to a bumpy start, as Myeni’s legal representation attempted to introduce a new party to the case, in a move condemned by Judge Ronel Tolmay.

The new party, a union representative of the SA Cabin Crew Association, had sought to address the court on what they said were matters of interest to the case.

"I am not going to bend over backwards to accommodate a party which is not part of the proceedings," said the judge, adding that they should have filed an appropriate notice if they intended to be heard by the court.

The hearing continues.

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