By Jeffrey Muvundusi
Former vice president Phelekezela Mphoko is slowly but surely losing grip on the ownership and control of supermarket chain Choppies Zimbabwe, run by Nanavac Investments.
Choppies entered the Zimbabwean market in 2013 in a partnership between a local investment Nanavac which had a 51 percent stake jointly owned by Mphoko and his son Siqokoqela and, Botswana’s listed Choppies Enterprises Limited which is backed by that country’s former president Festus Mogae with a 49 percent stake.
To date the supermarket chain has 32 operational shops across the country.
Mphoko seems to have lost grip of the business since former president Robert Mugabe was toppled by the military last November in a soft coup.
Apparently taking advantage of his fall from grace, the Botswana shareholders led by chief executive Ramachandaran Ottapathu who holds 34,2 percent equity in the group have for the past two months been on a drive to reclaim 100 percent shareholding of the group.
The Botswana-headquartered business recently claimed that the Mphokos only own 7 percent of the shares in the company with their purported 51 percent having been “unfairly” facilitated under the now-defunct Indigenisation law.
While Mphoko recently declared that he would not accept a “Gupta-style” hostile takeover bid by his Botswana counterpart, events on the ground indicate that the former VP is slowly losing the battle.
While so many events have happened in the past few weeks with Ramachandaran at the forefront of the takeover, the recent hauling of Mphoko’s son Siqokoqela and his wife to court over 170 fraud counts and extortion respectively, indicates how powerless the Mphokos have become.
In both cases, their family lawyer who is also MDC president Welshman Ncube is representing the accused.
Siqokoqela is a shareholder and one of the six directors of Nanavac Investments where he is also a non-executive director.
First to be dragged to court last month was Siqokoqela’s wife, Nomagugu, 36, for allegedly ordering 15 Choppies Supermarket managers to unlawfully allot more than $30 000 cash from their point of sale machines.
According to the court papers, Nomagugu would threaten the manager with either dismissal or deportation to those who are of Indian origin.
She was released on $200 bail and her trial date has been scheduled for September 14. Nomagugu appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Sithembiso Ndlovu facing 49 counts of extortion.
Just last week, her husband, Siqokoqela was also standing before the same magistrate to answer to charges of 170 counts of theft and fraud.
He reportedly prejudiced the supermarket chain of a total sum of $51 945,53 and nothing was recovered. He was remanded to September 14 on $200 bail.
However, above all, the court documents seemed to expose the Mphoko family that their controlling stake in the big supermarket chain was ineffective after all.
“The accused person had given the impression that he is at the helm of the company to the extent that he does not answer to anyone but himself.
“As such all the employees in Zimbabwe were labouring under the misconception that the accused person is the owner of Choppies Zimbabwe.
“He even threatened the employees with dismissal and deportation, the court heard,” read the court papers.
The court further heard that on various dates, Siqokoqela without board authority from the complainant or agreement with any of the shareholders or directors and without seeking their consent proceeded to various supermarkets of the complainant where he demanded for and looted cash, goods or services.
This, he did by deceiving the employees into believing that he was at the helm of the company with the authority to demand or collect anything he so wished from the business and that he could collect goods on a credit facility which was itself a misrepresentation, the court heard.
On various occasions, it is alleged Siqokoqela misrepresented to the employees from whom he collected the cash, goods or services that the value therefore was to be deducted from his monthly salary.
At the same time he would instruct the finance department of the company not to deduct any amount from his salary.
As the battle for control rages on, it all stands to be seen who will be the victor. Daily News