CAPE TOWN – Vele Investment, the majority shareholder of the embattled VBS Mutual Bank, is allegedly being stripped of its assets after plans were put in motion where Lebashe Investment Group finds itself in pole position to acquire one of Vele’s subsidiaries, valued at R300 million for R1.

Lebashe Investment Group, where former deputy finance minister Jabu Moleketi serves as the chairperson of the group, is in the process of buying Bophelo Life, a subsidiary of Vele Investment for R1 after VBS was placed under curatorship earlier this year.

The sale transaction has not been concluded and parties are still in discussions with the liquidator of Vele Investments and the Prudential Authority. There is also growing speculation that VBS bank is being deemed as not fit for resuscitation to sell off its assets at cheap rates to well-connected business individuals.

Vele Investment owns 53 percent of VBS and is the majority shareholder in multiple other entities that include Bophelo Life, which was formerly known as Mvunonala Holdings. Vele Investments acquired the company back in September 2017 for R300 million. Almost one year later, after the implosion of the company, Lebashe is now in the process of acquiring the company for R1. 

Collapse

In an exclusive interview, Maanda Manyatshe, a former group chief executive of Vele Investments, in 2017 revealed there was a “concerted effort within the Reserve Bank” that has been successful in engineering the collapse of the Vele Investments and its subsidiaries, to buy off its assets for next to nothing. He also questioned why, since VBS was under curatorship, those who had taken over have essentially killed the liquidity of the institution by limiting withdrawals to just R500 a month.

“The intention was to never resuscitate the bank, because the first thing that the curator did when he came in is that he limited the withdrawal to R500 per month. If you have an account at VBS and your salary was paid into VBS, they moved your account. How would you let your salary be paid to a bank where you can only withdraw R500. That was in no way improving liquidity, and it was a blatant attempt to restrict the bank’s cash flow,” he said.

According to Manyatshe, Anoosh Rooplal, the curator of VBS, even limited the withdrawal amounts on Stokvel’s and burial societies to around R7 000 per incident.

Currently, there has been no competitive bid from other bankers.

“All customers are being moved to Nedbank. Right from the beginning their intent was to kill this bank, because there were lapses from the Reserve Bank. There was an oversight, the scheme was sophisticated. The Reserve Bank was told that something was going wrong and they did nothing. Now they are stripping these companies and selling them cheaply,” explained Manyatshe.

Explaining the series of events, Manyatshe says Vele was approached by Lebashe and had shown interest, but then seemed to pull back. Then, as the company started facing financial troubles, Lebashe moved to acquire it via the Reserve Bank for R1.

Sequestration

According to Manyatshe, the curator then applied for sequestration, which was granted.

“I then appealed the sequestration on the basis that Vele Investment has got assets greater than the money it owes VBS. Among the companies with assets is Bophelo Life, which had an offer for R300m. Then there is Vele Asset Management and other mining operations that are valued at more than R4.5 billion. Some of them have silver, gold and palladium deposits and there are smelters being built. They are trying to collapse Vele Investment to ensure that by the time we get to the hearing the company has no value. They have started by cutting R300m out of Vele through Bophelo,” said Manyatshe.

Questions are also being raised about why there is no move to put the company into a better position rather than selling its assets through liquidation. The latest developments, according to Manyatshe suggest that here is no appetite to recover money that has been lost.

“The intention is to kill VBS. Look at it this way, if we kill all the companies where the executives committed crimes, many companies in South Africa should be closed. Only as few people committed the crimes. How do you close the whole bank when only a few people committed the crime. This has left many of our people in the communities we serve confused,” he said.

Warren Wheatley, the chief executive of Lebashe, told Independent Media that Manyatshe’s portrayal of the R1 transaction was not entirely accurate and dismissed any notion of political favour. According to Wheatley Lebashe Financial Services conducted a due diligence (DD) with a view to acquiring the entire issued share capital of Mvunonala Holdings, which included a number of companies, including the Bophelo Insurance Group.

Confirm the value

“An offer of R300m was indeed made, subject to a detailed DD being undertaken to confirm the value. Lebashe ultimately walked away from the transaction as our DD uncovered activities that rendered the business worthless. We heard later that the Vele Group had resurrected the transaction and acquired the shares in the Mvunonala Group. These activities occurred during June to August 2017,” explained Wheatley.

According to Wheatley, in May this year, management at Bophelo Insurance Group approached Lebashe to assist in saving the company as they were technically insolvent following VBS being put under curatorship.

“This curatorship meant the capital adequacy reserves were lost. These reserves must be held by insurers and are required by legislation to protect policyholders and other creditors of any insurance company. Bophelo lost access and will lose completely in excess of R100m as a result of VBS being liquidated. This means they have lost assets of R114m or more and the reason why they are technically insolvent,” said Wheatley.

He said to asset the Bophelo Group from being put under curatorship, Lebashe provided a short-term loan for R100m to the group. This allowed for the imminent curatorship to be delayed, while Lebashe conducted another DD with a view to acquiring just the Bophelo Insurance Group.

“Other assets from the group were excluded from this DD. This loan allowed for more than 80 jobs to be saved and for policy holders to be protected. The results of our DD again indicated that as a result of the losses of the capital reserves and other issues the businesses were worthless. Lebashe have therefore submitted an offer to acquire the group for R1. This means that while we receive the shares for R1 we accept responsibility for liabilities incurred in excess of R100m,” explained Wheatley.

BUSINESS REPORT