Photo: Spar.com
Photo: Spar.com

Family demands R18m from Spar for 'data theft'

By Mervyn Naidoo Time of article published Nov 24, 2019

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A Greek business family is demanding R18 million in damages from The Spar Group for “data theft”.

The Giannacopoulos family, who operate several Spar stores, mainly in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, claim in a letter of demand that the theft of their “confidential financial records” stored in two computers was an “invasion of their privacy”.

Last month, Spar successfully obtained interim ex parte orders from the North Gauteng (Pretoria) and Pietermaritzburg high courts respectively.

Spar alleged that the Giannacopoulos family had brought their brand into disrepute by having interests in rival supermarket chains, which was not permissible for Spar franchisees, flouted labour legislation and traded in expired goods.

The family operates 41 Spar stores and employs 2800 workers.

The interim orders enabled Spar to seize control of the family-owned stores, a remedy which only lasted two days, because the family successfully overturned the ex parte order granted in Pretoria and also regained control of their KZN stores, even though that matter is not concluded.

In the letter of demand issued by the family’s legal representatives, Fluxmans Attorneys, they say the ex parte orders enabled the theft and invasion of the family’s privacy.

The family claim that their computers at the Sinoville Centre in Pretoria were seized by Spar on October 18 - a day after the orders were overturned, at a time when Spar ought to have reinstated possession of the stores to the family

Sinoville is the headquarters of the family’s operations in Gauteng and North West province, where their other business interests, apart from Spar stores, are managed.

It is alleged that Spar representatives “unlawfully” copied 113 files and folders bearing “confidential financial records” from one of the computers, the next morning.

Emails, some of which comprised a staff member’s private messages and 46 images, were also copied, including information that related to their other business interests.

“The reprehensible theft of our client’s data and information was carried out by The Spar Group on October 19.

“It is clear that Spar, once it became aware that it could not keep our client’s computers in terms of the order, decided to deceitfully and unlawfully copy the contents thereof,” reads an extract from the letter.

Apart from the theft of data, the family claims that Spar was in contempt of the court order and grossly violated their and their employees’ right to privacy and dignity.

Therefore, they asked that Spar return all the “stolen” data, and requested affidavits from all Spar representatives who handled the data, confirming that it had been destroyed or returned.

They also asked that two of their computers that were still outstanding be returned.

Spar was given seven days from the day the letter was sent, on Tuesday, to pay the R18m damages claim, failing which the family planned to proceed with legal action.

Mandy Hogan, secretary of The Spar Group, said they strongly denied the allegations made by the Giannacopoulos family and described them as “defamatory and false”.

Hogan said her company planned to “vigorously” defend themselves in court, as the allegations were meant to “intentionally impinge” Spar’s reputation.

She said the letter should be seen in the context of the court application brought by the family to prevent their expulsion from the Spar fold.

That matter will be heard in March, along with Spar’s application to realise notarial bonds over the family’s stores and assets which were raised as security for money allegedly owed to the group. Hogan said the termination of the family’s retail membership with Spar came after multiple attempts to hear why it should not be terminated.

Hogan said in line with the ex parte orders that were previously granted, they were entitled to take possession of the family’s related property, which included the computers in Sinoville.

She insisted that they only seized computers marked Spar, which were returned on October 21 in the presence of the sheriff of the court and some of the family’s staff.

Hogan said information was downloaded from the computers for the purpose of setting up payrolls.

That’s because Spar previously received reports from the Department of Labour that the family allegedly did not comply with certain labour practices.

When Spar was ordered to restore possession of the family’s assets, Hogan said they attempted to do so in an orderly fashion, but were subjected to intimidatory tactics on the part of some of the Giannacopoulos’ family representatives.

Explaining why the data was lifted after October 18, Hogan said that, given the number of stores they handled, it was a challenge to inform all Spar’s representatives of the new order timeously.

She said they had no computers, discs or copies in their possession and this would be confirmed in affidavits from the relevant Spar representatives.

And that it was never Spar’s intention to use any information from the computers or to invade any personal privacy. Hogan said there was no basis the family’s damages claim and Spar would “strenuously” defend any such action.

An extract from the Spar’s responding letter, which was penned by law firm Garlicke and Bousfield, reads: “Your letter contains defamatory material regarding theft on the part of The Spar Group. You are required to retract the same by return and we reserve our clients’ rights to take further action.”

Sunday Tribune

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