The Choppies Enterprises chief executive officer (CEO) Ramachandran Ottapathu says they will defend against a lawsuit filed by former Zimbabwean vice president, Phelekezela Mphoko and his son Siqokoqela, who are demanding about $22,585,714 for their shares in the company.
Before they disposed of their shareholding in January 2019, the father and son outfit held shares in the supermarket.
In their papers filed at Bulawayo High Court this week against Nanavac Investments, the plaintiffs, Choppies Enterprises and Choppies Distribution Centre, seek an order declaring an unlawful deed of settlement in terms of which the plaintiffs were divested of their entire shareholding in the Nanavac Investments and Choppies Enterprises.
They also seek payment in the sum of $22,585,714 being the value representing the 51% shareholding, which they held between them in Nanavac Investment before Choppies Enterprises ‘unlawfully’ divested them of the entire shareholding.
They also pray for interest on the aforementioned amount at the rate of five percent per annum. Asked what prompted Choppies to invest in Zimbabwe at a time when all the major stores were either closing or scaling down due to the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe, Ottapathu explained that they entered the market in July 2013 when the economy was in recovery mode and everyone going in there.
“The economy was doing okay that time,” he said.
He dismissed popular sentiments that by inviting the senior Mphoko as a shareholder, it was influence buying. Ottapathu said Phelekezela Mphoko was an ordinary citizen at that time.
“He was a retired diplomat and his son, Siqokoqela was working as a very junior employee at Capital Management Botswana (CMB) in Gaborone. None of them invested any money. It was only Choppies that invested the funds; details are available in Zimbabwe Investment Authority (ZIA) and Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. The agreements supporting this have been filed with all authorities.”
He also laughed off allegations that the Mphokos were invited into Choppies to help with the Zimbabwean Competition Authority over alleged regulatory irregularities in the acquisition of Spar in Bulawayo.
Ottapathu, who is popularly known as Ram, said the authority was not functional at the time of acquisition, adding that there were no irregularities at any point of time.
He also commented as ‘untruthful’ that there was a false declaration by Choppies in relation to its Spar take-over that Mphoko’s son had to clean up.
“Choppies is a public limited company and our lawyers will not give any false information.”
He explained that Choppies in Zimbabwe has proper systems in place, which get audited regularly by the independent auditors and regulatory authorities and “we are a fully compliant company”. Responding to Siqokoqela’s arrest in 2018, he said Mphoko junior was arrested for stealing money from the company.
“Please check the criminal records at the court. He was arrested for stealing cash from the company. Basically, he is a criminal like any other person with criminal records of stealing,” Ottapathu said.
Ram said there is a deed of settlement done at the court through his lawyers in which the two plaintiffs were paid the sum of $2,900,000 and the records speak for themselves.
He said his company is in Zimbabwe to operate a business, nothing beyond. Finally, the Choppies CEO said they were waiting on regulatory advice on the new developments in Zimbabwe before they notify shareholders.