22 February 2024 | 03:54 PM

Namibian airline allegedly covered up fraud by one of its top executives

Key Takeaways

Namibia’s national carrier, Air Namibia, has sat for more than two years on a damning forensic audit report that accuses one of its top executives of fraud, dishonesty, accepting expensive gifts from a company doing business with the airline and violating Namibia’s anti-corruption laws.

Among other things the airline’s current marketing manager, Willem “Wimpie” van Vuuren, is alleged to have accepted a N$400,000 (R400,000) Rolex watch from a supplier.

The investigation, carried out by Deloitte & Touche on the instructions of Air Namibia, cost N$6-million (R6-million). It relates to Van Vuuren’s previous stint as head of Air Namibia’s operations in Germany.

The auditors advised Air Namibia to report their findings to Namibia’s Anti-Corruption Commission and make them available to the German authorities for investigation. It appears the recommendation was not acted on.

The airline has strongly defended Van Vuuren, insisting he is innocent of all the allegations and saying that the German police cleared him after an investigation.

The final Deloitte and Touche report, which The Namibian has seen, is dated April 2014. It accuses Van Vuuren of “accepting substantial business courtesies or gifts, either in cash or in kind, in connection with his employment”.

The auditors turn the spotlight on his relationship with the owners of GIC International Catering, a Frankfurt-based company that supplied meals and other services to Air Namibia.

They find that “he tolerated improper influence, bribery or unethical conduct by GIC and failed to immediately report such conduct; and/or failed to perform his duties with honesty and integrity”.

He “deceived and lied” about his dealings

The report says that Van Vuuren received a N$400,000 watch from GIC, but when questioned about it, claimed it was worth N$46,000.

It adds that he “deceived and lied” about his dealings with the company when he was subjected to a polygraph test in January 2014.

After reviewing GIC’s invoices to Air Namibia between 2008 and 2012, the auditors found evidence that the catering firm overcharged the airline by claiming to have catered for 9,650 passengers, while Air Namibia’s records showed that only 7,481 passengers were on the relevant flights.

They said the indications were that “GIC or its representatives or Van Vuuren may have defrauded Air Namibia by misrepresenting the amounts in the invoices that GIC submitted to Air Namibia for approval”.

All the invoices were signed off by Van Vuuren, who failed to verify them, according to the report.

The auditors added that it was impossible to assess the pricing on the invoices because there was no record of what prices had been agreed.

“In the absence of any proof of delivery and price lists to which to compare the pricing in the attachment, it is not clear on which basis any of these invoices could have been approved [and paid] or whether the charges contained therein were reasonable,” the report says.

… the company blamed the discrepancies on its accountant

The report also says Van Vuuren’s decision to extend the catering contract with the same firm from 2006 to 2007, and his approval of inflated payments, could be viewed as corrupt.

Air Namibia’s current country manager, Bekim Dura, had questioned the invoices in 2005.

At the time Dura was working for Aviareps AG, Air Namibia’s sales agent in Germany, where he was in charge of processing VAT claims and paying suppliers.

He found that GIC overcharged Air Namibia in two separate months in 2005 by claiming to have provided services for twice the number of recorded passengers on certain flights.

Dura told the investigators that when he confronted GIC, the company blamed the discrepancies on its accountant.

GIC was sent e-mailed questions, but did not respond.

The investigators found only one signed agreement between GIC and Air Namibia, concluded on November 1, 2003.

The only other agreement they came across was in 2006. It was unsigned and used the same wording as the 2003 contract.

Investigators concluded that he lied

During the polygraph test, Van Vuuren denied having a close relationship with GIC’s owners and claimed that he returned the Rolex watch when he realised it was “too expensive”.

The investigators concluded that he lied. “Deception indicated (not honest),” concluded the South African polygraph examiner, Charles Zeelie.

Van Vuuren answered only one of eight questions truthfully, the report says.

It adds that he broke Air Namibia’s disciplinary code by acting fraudulently, failing to act in the airline’s best interests; abusing his position of trust; failing to act in the best interests of Air Namibia; having conflicted interests, and gross negligence.

Van Vuuren said GIC was already providing services to the airline by the time he joined Air Namibia and that the co ntract was facilitated by Air Namibia’s operations manager, Sky Care.

He told the investigators that the pricing was agreed annually between the airline’s user department and GIC.

However, the report said he “acknowledged that GIC relationship with the airline was … dealt with poorly and that there was never really a contract in place”.

Van Vuuren told the auditors the 2003 GIC agreement was the only contract he signed with GIC, and then only as a witness.

He denied having received cash from GIC or having a romantic relationship with GIC’s boss Marion Reincke, whom he said he had only met outside business hours for business purposes.

No proof the allegations were ‘thoroughly investigated by the German police’

Air Namibia spokesperson Paul Nakawa said the audit report was not commissioned by the airline’s management but by the former board of directors. “We therefore have reservations as management to comment on its content,” he said.

Nakawa said the airline is aware of the allegations against Van Vuuren.
“The allegations were made known to management some time back, but not through the forensic report.

We, however, can confirm that the allegations were thoroughly investigated by the German police in Frankfurt, as the alleged transgressions would have taken place in that country,” he said.

Nakawa claimed that the investigation by the German police found that these allegations were “devoid of any truth and could not be substantiated”.

“There was no proof whatsoever. As a result, the names of our employee and our suppliers in Germany were cleared.

“A report stating that the investigation by the German police did not find any wrongdoing by our employee and the suppliers was issued,” he said.

Nakawa provided no proof that the German police had cleared Van Vuuren.

Questions put by The Namibian to the police had not been answered at the time of going to press.

Asked for comment this week, Van Vuuren said: “I wish to confirm that we stand by the official response as provided by Mr Nakawa.”

Air Namibia board chairperson Gerson Tjihenuna refused to respond to questions.“I do not have anything to add,” he said in an e-mail to The Namibian.

* The headline of this story was changed after publication to remove an inaccurate quantification of the extent of the alleged fraud.


The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism provided this story. Like it? Bean amaB supporter and help us domore. Know more? Send us
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*The Namibian’s investigative desk produced this story in association with amaBhungane

 

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Before joining the amaBhungane team in 2017, Micah was the national coordinator for media freedom and diversity at the Right2Know Campaign. He holds a Masters in African Studies from Oxford University and a BA Honours in History from Wits University.

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