A top medical supply company fronted its director’s domestic worker to win more than R160 million worth of government tenders.
The Star can reveal that Mille Net Imports cc appointed Elizabeth Tsebe as a director and 40 percent shareholder in 2007 without her knowledge.
Our four-month investigation uncovered that Tsebe’s benefits from her involvement in the company were not commensurate with her position as a shareholder.
This was despite the firm winning lucrative contracts countrywide largely on the basis of its “impressive” black economic empowerment credentials.
According to Mille Net’s profile, it is a “specialist manufacturer of medical consumable products and an importer and supplier of new-generation technology disposable items”. The company had won tenders to directly or indirectly supply disposable thermometers to health departments in all the provinces over the past five years.
An independent search showed that pharmacist Corinne Ferreira appointed Tsebe, her domestic worker since 1996, as a co-owner of Mille Net five years ago.
But Tsebe’s police affidavit said she knew nothing about that appointment until last year. She added that Ferreira just told her to sign documents for her Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF).
Documents in the possession of The Star – including Mille Net’s financial statements, share register, tender documents and records from the government’s register of corporate ownership – showed Tsebe received neither a director’s salary nor dividends.
After information about Tsebe’s hidden shares leaked late last year, the company offered her R3m “compensation” to walk.
According to a settlement offer drafted and signed by Ferreira’s legal representative, Maritz Smith van Eeden Inc – dated October 31, 2011 – Tsebe’s golden handshake included a severance package of R24 000 and her November 2011 salary of R6 500.
Ferreira initially offered Tsebe R650 000, then increased it to R1.7m and later R3m, but Tsebe rejected the offer and demanded R10m.
Her affidavit said the money included an unpaid director’s salary, the value of dividends for her shares and “forged signatures”.
The Star traced Tsebe, 44, to an RDP settlement in her hometown of Mokopane, Limpopo, where she settled after being fired. The single mother-of-two, the sole breadwinner in a family of six, was inconsolable.
“I just want my own money so I can move on with my life. I can’t go back. Now my life is messed up. I have no income because Corinne told the Labour Department that I resigned from work. Because of that I can’t get my UIF,” she said.
Ferreira’s lawyer told Tsebe’s legal representative that “we have been instructed by our client to make a full and final settlement proposal to your client in this letter… for her 40 percent member’s interest in the cc, based on the actual value of same as set out in the financial statement”.
Ferreira on Tuesday denied any wrongdoing, saying it was “absolutely not true. All that you are saying and what Lizzy told you is not true.”
Mille Net was placed under final liquidation by the Johannesburg High Court recently because of the deadlock between Tsebe and Ferreira.
Ferreira may not face criminal charges because the bill that sought to criminalise fronting has yet to be signed into law.