22 June 2024 | 02:49 AM

‘Kitty empty’, but Aurora splashes out on advisers

Key Takeaways

While 2 000 mineworkers at Aurora’s Grootvlei mine on the East Rand have been unpaid since February, Aurora’s “advisers” appear to have received millions from the company.

Financial records seen by the Mail & Guardian suggest strongly that the Bhana family and their associates benefited from cash-strapped Grootvlei.

There is also a question mark over where the proceeds of R120-million in gold sales have gone.

Lead liquidator Enver Motala said that, according to Aurora’s figures, the mine’s expenses up to February were R179-million, leaving the company R59-million in the red.

But the M&G’s information suggests only R70-million has actually been paid out in running costs. A source who knows the operation said the rest could still be owing.

Aurora maintains that the kitty is empty. Commercial director Thulane Ngubane said: “We have paid more than R70-million. If anyone wants to see, we can show them our bank statements. There’s no balance left over, nothing.”

The question of how the money has been spent is also exercising the minds of the joint provisional liquidators. A statement by their attorneys said Aurora’s Grootvlei accounts were being forensically investigated.

“The liquidators concluded an interim trading and contract mining agreement with Aurora — the liquidators have called for reports and accounts and are forensically analysing and verifying what has been provided.”

Motala disclosed that a staggering R51-million in cash payments was included in the R179-million running costs.

The Bhana family has provided management services to Aurora, which is led by the nephew of President Jacob Zuma, Khulubuse Zuma, and Nelson Mandela’s grandson, Zondwa ­Mandela.

While no Bhana family member is an Aurora director, the M&G can reveal that at least four of them had money paid into their personal accounts in October and November last year.

This is in addition to the management fee earned by lead consultant Fazel Bhana, paid by a separate division of Aurora, Redwood Timber.

According to documents seen by the M&G, Feroza Theba, Fazel’s sister, received R270 249 in those two months.

Fazel disputes this: “We can categorically deny that any money went from Aurora to her. It’s a total fabrication. It’s impossible. Not one cent was ever transferred to Feroza.”

In addition, Feroza’s husband, Yaseen Theba, who is in business with Mandela, was given R900914.

He explained this by saying: “At that time Aurora did not have a cheque book. Certain transfers were done into my accounts and I issued cheques for them. Also there were times when the signatory on the cheque book was not available so I made payments and Aurora then paid me back.”

Theba is also a director of Merloni branding, owned by him and Mandela. Merloni received R177104 during October and November last year for website and email hosting and the printing of invoice books, waybills and business cards for Aurora.

Shamila Essay, Bhana’s other sister and the wife of Aurora’s buyer, Feroz Essay, received R64000. Ismail Bhana, an IT specialist, received R24500 over two months.

Fazel said that Shamila Essay did not work for the mine but her husband Feroz Essay’s monthly salary — R27 000 — was paid into her account. “I didn’t have an account,” Feroz said.

The M&G has established that Feroz took the rap for a R19-million VAT fraud case brought against the Bhanas in 2002.

On June 26 2003 Feroz and Hennie Janse van Vuuren pleaded guilty to all charges. Charges against other Bhana family members were withdrawn. Essay was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment, suspended for five years, and was ordered to pay the South African Revenue Service R17-million, plus an additional R3-million fine.

The M&G has also confirmed that more than R2-million flowed from Aurora to Woody Diamonds, a company run by Wadih, the son of Aurora’s financial manager, Tony Chammas.

Fazel Bhana described Diamonds as “one of our principal funders” and said: “We were paying them back.”

The M&G has established that Lebanese-born Chammas was involved in the highly controversial collapse of a flower-exporting business, Intuitions Quality Flowers, into which the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) pumped about R35-million.

Intuitions was liquidated in 2008, but investigators, including forensic auditors called in by the DBSA, are still trying to unravel what ­happened.

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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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