VR Laser to wind down as rescue fails

The premises of VR Laser Services, one of eight Gupta family-owned companies under business rescue, have been gutted, according to the company’s recently departed financial manager Claire Tomsett, with computers, machinery and copper wiring going missing.

Creditors this week voted for a controlled winding down of the company under the direction of rescue practitioners Johan Louis Klopper and Kurt Knoop.

This follows an offer from a company called Blain Capital Solutions to inject R11.7m that fell through when Blain failed to come up with a promised goodwill payment of only R500 000.

The company “most definitely has no prospects of coming out of its current state”, said Tomsett in a scathing email addressed to VR Laser managers, business rescue practitioners and Irvin Jim, the general secretary of the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.

'Devastated'

In her letter, Tomsett recalls visiting VR Laser last week when the electricity was finally cut off after four months of non-payment.

“Yesterday, I took a walk through the factory and was devastated to see the state of affairs. Computers have been stolen, laser computers were also removed, tooling and equipment is obviously missing and even certain cables have been removed for the copper,” she said.

VR Laser’s employees have not been paid for three months, but instead of getting retrenched so they can at least collect unemployment insurance, they have all just been sent home unpaid.

“It is absolutely ludicrous that people must continue to accumulate their income yet not receive it while sitting at home (if they still have the luxury of having one). I firmly believe that everyone should be placed on forced retrenchment to not only enable them to collect UIF, which they desperately need, but also to stop the costs accumulating for the staff,” said Tomsett.

The business rescue of VR Laser has dragged on without resolution for the past few weeks due to strange last-minute offers to save it.

Blain, which is chaired by one of the directors of the infamous Aurora Empowerment Systems, Thulani Ngubane, had earlier offered R350m for the company. He claimed to have the backing of unnamed Saudi investors and bank guarantees of uncertain validity.

This fell through, which led to Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa making a surprise offer of R70m. After a week, this offer was withdrawn and Blain returned with a new offer: a management contract over VR Laser accompanied by a promised injection of R11.7m.

This has also not materialised, despite extensions being granted by the rescue practitioners.

This week, creditors finally voted to wind down the company, which will involve selling its assets piecemeal.

“Since the start of our so-called business rescue process, I have been standing in the wings (not very quietly) watching all the manoeuvring and goings on that have made no sense whatsoever. I also indicated from the onset that I do not trust or believe anything that is happening,” Tomsett wrote last week Friday in a letter that accompanied her resignation notice.

Tomsett also lashed out at earlier reports in City Press, and said that “inaccurate information regarding the goodwill and company loan” had been leaked, undermining her future job prospects.

This is a reference to an article based on VR Laser’s financial statements and the external auditor’s scathing opinion of the treatment of the company’s intangible assets.

Tomsett said that the main problem at VR Laser was always the closure of bank accounts after the major South African banks boycotted all entities related to the Gupta family and their last remaining bank, Bank of Baroda, pulled out early this year.

VR Laser had, however, suffered large losses long before the bank boycott, which started in December 2015.

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