Johannesburg - The protracted legal battle aimed at recouping millions pocketed by a Joburg family while Aurora mineworkers starved yielded some results on Tuesday.
The North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ordered the family to repay R15.1 million.
While this was just a drop in the ocean in relation to multimillion-rand transactions that the father-and-son team of Sulliman and Fazel Bhana made into their private bank accounts, liquidators were elated at Judge Eberhard Bertelsmann’s ruling as they can go ahead and issue warrants against the Bhana family and their associates.
Six other respondents in the case are Sulliman’s wife Zubaida, his daughters Shamilla Essay and Feroza Bhana, son-in-law Yaseen Theba and relatives Mohamed Firoze Limbada and Zeenat Ebrahim Laher.
“They have to repay. We are satisfied that we are finally able to tell the workers and liquidators that we’ve begun to recover the money,” John Walker, attorney for the liquidators, said on Tuesday.
The liquidators said the Bhana family were busy transferring money into several of their accounts, driving Aurora Empowerment Systems (AES) into insolvency, while workers went for months without payments.
On Tuesday, advocate Kennedy Tsatsawana appealed to Judge Bertelsmann to give his clients time to find financial records from their accountants to prove to the court and liquidators that there was no fraudulent activity on their part, and that they merely took back what they’d paid towards workers’ salaries and electricity.
He argued that with Sulliman changing lawyers, he had not had time to prepare for Tuesday’s proceedings, let alone acquire documents that would have proved to the court “why these payments were made”. The payments were made at a time when workers and creditors had to be prioritised.
But Judge Bertelsmann turned down the application for a postponement, saying the Bhanas had ample time to prepare and give financial records they say would absolve them.
“In order to counter the allegations that payments running into millions were made to respondents when the company was indisputably insolvent, they ought to show that these payments were validly made,” the judge said.
“To do this, applicants say there was proof of payments made… documents will be obtained in the next two weeks.
“It is surprising that two years later, and having been faced with this application for many, many moons, the respondents haven’t been able to obtain proof of payments,” he added.
Judge Bertelsmann said while the Bhanas pocketed the money, mineworkers were left to bear the brunt.
“Your clients furthered their own nest at the expense of other creditors. What is claimed by the respondents is that monies were received by these eight respondents at a time when the liquidators say Aurora was hopelessly insolvent, didn’t have an income and was unable to pay creditors and its workforce.
“It is not denied that during that period the company was under control of some of respondents… not denied that these repayments were made and were received,” he said.
“Some of the persons affected by the insolvency have been the workforce of the mines who were not paid for their services,” the judge added.
Tuesday’s ruling provided hope for liquidators and union leaders, but they said there was little to celebrate as the ruling would not return their money.
But Bhana has pleaded poverty, saying in court papers his family are under financial stress and face eviction.
A separate case involving Khulubuse Zuma, Nelson Mandela’s grandson Zondwa, Sheshile Thulani Ngubane and Sulliman and Fazel Bhana will return to court in March.