Moyo's lawyers seize on Manuel's jibe about a judge

Trevor Manuel.
Trevor Manuel.

In a press conference on Friday, Old Mutual chairperson Trevor Manuel criticised a judge - which Peter Moyo's legal team was quick to seize on. 

Old Mutual suspended Moyo in May for an alleged conflict of interest. He was fired three weeks later. Moyo challenged this in court, and the Johannesburg High Court agreed that the dismissal was unlawful. Old Mutual is appealing this decision, and again fired Moyo last month. 

Manuel maintains that the second dismissal is valid and that Moyo isn't employed by Old Mutual any more.

"He can have coffee on the ground floor. If he has a meeting with any of the staff he can use one of our boardrooms on the first floor," said Manuel of Moyo, who has twice been barred from returning to work at the company's Sandton building.

"Unless you are employed in the building, you don’t have access into the building," he said.

But Moyo maintains that Old Mutual is in contempt of court, and has filed a legal application to allow him back into the office. He says the second dismissal forms part of this contempt of court application.

Speaking to journalists, Manuel, who was supported by members of the board, stated that the financial services company was within its rights to defend the litigation brought against Moyo. He also took aim at the High Court judgment against Old Mutual. 

'Individual in a robe'

Manuel said the company had been hamstrung by Judge Mashile's ruling, which barred the firm from appointing a CEO. 

"We are ready to rock and roll... Judge Mashile’s judgment says we can’t; it’s another strange kind of situation. I am saying the Act is abundantly clear on the responsibilities of the directors... and you get that overturned by a single individual who happens to wear a robe," said Manuel.

He later retracted the reference to the judge after a journalist confronted him about it. 

However, Manuel's remark was noted by Moyo's lawyers, who described it as "regrettable".

”We condemn this statement which constitutes yet another count of contempt of court. The statement also exposes Mr Manuel’s ignorance about how our democracy functions," read a statement.

"In a constitutional democracy, even the decisions of the President can be 'overturned by a single individual just because he is wearing a robe', as Mr Manuel choose to insultingly refer to our judges."

They added that "legal steps will be taken to bring the latest insults to the attention of the court".

Earlier on Friday, it emerged that Old Mutual's legal team sent a letter to Moyo advising that it had decided against launching an urgent application against Moyo. 

Moyo's legal team said this meant he was free to return to work at any time.

Board attack

At the media conference, Manuel also sounded a warning against Moyo's reported plan of mounting a legal application to have members of the board declared delinquent, describing the idea as "far-fetched". 

He said the idea would have a serious impact on corporate governance, as stipulated in the Companies Act, which states that shareholders elect directors to represent their interests.

"Just because one individual is upset, you can’t transcend the impact of corporate governance as set out in the Companies Act, that shareholders elect directors to represent their interests. So you can’t take shareholders out of play in this… it would be too far-fetched," said Manuel.

Manuel stated that the board was made up of highly skilled individuals in matters relating to corporate governance, and rejected Moyo's claim that they were being being bullied by him (Manuel), with no views of their own.

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