By Mashudu Netsianda
The trial dates have been set for former Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s son, Siqokoqela and his wife, Nomagugu who are facing charges of hijacking Choppies retail business and “looting” more than $80 000 in cash and goods from the outlets countrywide without board approval.
Siqokoqela Mphoko (40) who is a director of Nanavac Investments (Private) Limited, a local partner for the Botswana-registered Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) Limited is facing 170 counts of fraud and theft involving more than $50 000.
Nomagugu (36) is facing 49 counts of extortion after she allegedly ordered supermarket managers to unlawfully dispense over $30 000 cash from their point of sale machines after threatening them with either deportation or dismissal.
The couple, of Hillside suburb, is out of custody on $200 bail each. As part of the bail conditions, the two were ordered not to interfere with State witnesses.
They appeared separately before Bulawayo magistrate Ms Adelaide Mbeure last Friday.
Siqokoqela was remanded to Wednesday for trial with Nomagugu’s trial starting two days later.
Siqokoqela, who is a shareholder in the retail business and a non executive director, is accused of abusing his power to “loot” cash realised from sales at different supermarkets and replacing it with transfers.
Prosecuting, Mr Nkathazo Dlodlo said between July last year and June this year, Siqokoqela proceeded to various Choppies supermarkets where he allegedly demanded varying amounts of cash, goods and services for various purposes from the employees without approval from the board.
“The accused person deceived the employees into believing that he was the one at the helm of Choppies Zimbabwe and had authority to demand or collect anything he wanted from the business. He also told the employees that he had the authority to collect goods on a credit facility, which was a misrepresentation,” said Mr Dlodlo.
The court heard that on different occasions, Siqokoqela collected cash, groceries and an assortment of building material and ordered personnel from the finance department not to deduct the money from his salary.
“There were occasions when he also misrepresented that he intended to replace the money through swiping from Point of Sale (POS) machines,” said Mr Dlodlo.
In papers before the court, Siqokoqela by virtue of being a non-executive director was entitled to a monthly gross salary of $10 000, company vehicle, fuel, telephone allowance and 3,53 percent of profit after tax as dividend at the end of each year.
Although he was not supposed to be directly involved in the day to day operations of the company, Siqokoqela allegedly masqueraded as the owner of the company in Zimbabwe and even threatened to either dismiss or deport employees of Indian origin for defying his orders.
The matter came to light in May 2018 when the Botswana based Choppies group chief executive officer, Mr Ottapathu Ramachandran discovered that there were a series of financial imbalances while going through the company management accounting books.
It was discovered that the company was prejudiced of $51 945,53. The matter was reported to the police and investigations were conducted leading to Siqokoqela’s arrest and nothing was recovered.
Nomagugu allegedly bulldozed various Choppies outlets in Bulawayo and demanded cash. She allegedly ordered 15 Choppies Supermarket managers in Bulawayo to unlawfully dispense more than $30 000 cash from their POS machines.
The court heard that between June 13 and 29 this year, Nomagugu went to the complainants, some of whom are Indians, and demanded cash during which she also threatened to either get them fired or deported if they refused to comply.
The court heard that as a result of the threats, the complainants acceded to the accused person’s demands.
“The accused person derived the advantage of easily accessing cash which is hard to come by, their conduct resulted in loss for Nanavac Investments in that being a retail business, the company’s outlets rely heavily on cash to pay critical suppliers, including arranging for foreign payments with local banks,” said Mr Dlodlo.
She would then swipe the equivalent of the money she received using different bank cards. The cash unlawfully collected by Nomagugu from the 15 shops amounts to $30 230.
The money was looted on different occasions from Choppies shops in Bulawayo’s city central business district, Luveve, Pumula East, Entumbane, Bellevue, Nkulumane and Lobengula suburbs.
The Mphokos are being represented by Professor Welshman Ncube of Mathonsi Law Chambers. The Chronicle