Struggling state-owned SA Express’s debts keep piling up. It emerged this week that the airline owes a specialist aviation company more than R24.4 million after failing to pay for leasing two jets. Photo: File
Johannesburg - Struggling state-owned SA Express’s debts keep piling up. It emerged this week that the airline owes a specialist aviation company more than R24.4 million after failing to pay for leasing two jets.

The Matekane Group of Companies (MGC) Express, which is owned by one of Lesotho’s richest businessmen, Sam Matekane, is demanding more than R24.4m from SA Express after the airline failed to pay his company for the leasing of two Bombardier jets between 2017 and 2018.

MGC Express’s lawsuit was laid bare in court papers just as the troubled airline was placed under business rescue on Thursday by South Gauteng High Court Judge Fiona Dippenaar, who appointed Daniel Terblanche and Phahlani Mkhombo as joint business rescue practitioners.

The decision to place SA Express under business rescue followed logistics firm Ziegler SA demanding R11.3m from the airline for unpaid services.

Darryl Furman, MGC Express’s lawyer, yesterday told Independent Media that the effect of the business rescue was that all existing and pending litigation against SA Express is stayed pending finalisation of the business rescue proceedings.

His client’s lawsuit could not go any further until the process was finalised, but MGC Express will be among the airline’s creditors.

“My client will wait for the outcome of the business rescue and hopefully it’s successful,” Furman added.

MGC Express is a specialised aviation company leasing aircraft to various operators. It also offers VIP, international and national charter services. It entered an agreement with SA Express, to pay $1 376 (about R20 600) an hour to rent the aircraft.

SA Express initially owed MGC Express over R42.5m but paid between November 2017 and November 2018 until its bill stood at just over R24.4m.

According to MGC Express, SA Express either refused or neglected to pay its debt and also denied it was indebted to the company.

In February last year, SA Express admitted it owed MGC Express more than R24.4m and agreed to pay just over R2m from March 2019 until yesterday.

In December, South Gauteng High Court Acting Judge Nzame Skibi found that due to the dispute of facts between MGC Express and SA Express the matter cannot be settled without the aid of viva voce (oral) evidence and referred it for trial within 20 days.

Soon after Judge Dippenaar handed down her ruling, SA Express indicated that it will appeal her decision, saying it was clear that she went over and above what was required and granted orders not sought by Ziegler SA.

The airline stuck to its guns yesterday, disclosing that it was plagued by suppliers who are currently under internal review for serious abuse of the procurement system, unfair pricing and overcharging.

“The airline states that it would be irresponsible and amount to wasteful and fruitless expenditure to make payment on invoices submitted by Ziegler SA in circumstances where it was aware of irregularities.”According to SA Express, it would be absolutely criminal to allow further misuse of taxpayers’ money to reward a company whose contract has been identified through forensic investigations,as irregular and in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

Political Bureau