Legal and forensic reports into Choppies Enterprises Limited, circulated to shareholders via Botswana’s X-News and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange News Service (SENS) are unfair and biased – and appear designed to embarrass him rather than informing shareholders, says suspended CEO, Mr Ramchandran (Ram) Ottapathu.
Mr Ottapathu was responding to a Choppies Enterprises Limited shareholders’ circular ahead of an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of Choppies shareholders to be held on 4 September 2019. The circular published on X-News and SENS provided summaries of a Legal Report and Forensic Report relating to him. Mr Ottapathu’s version of what really unfolded at the company which he co-founded is contained in a right of reply to the summary responses to the EY Report and Desai Law Group (DLG) Report circulated to shareholders via X-News (Botswana) and SENS (JSE) announcements on 14 August 2019.
Earlier in the year, Mr Ottapathu made some suggestions to the non-executive directors as to changes to the board and structural changes to the company. Thereafter, on 22 May 2019, the non-executive directors, including former Botswana President Festus Mogae, suspended Mr Ottapathu. Mr Ottapathu engaged lawyers in South Africa and Botswana and retained an independent expert forensic accountant to advise him on his response. On this basis, he cautioned shareholders, ahead of the 4 September EGM, not to rely on the reports. He notes that the so-called legal report’s analysis largely clears him and his conduct, but its conclusions drawn by Botswana law firm, Desai Law Group (DLG), condemn him.
“Regrettably there was no attempt by DLG to present a fair and unbiased account in its legal report. Both the Legal Report and its summary (Annexure 1) present a skewed version of events on incorrect assumptions and are flawed. “I caution shareholders not to accept the report at face value,” Mr Ottapathu said. Turning to the so-called Forensic Report, he said its summary (Annexure 2 of the Board’s X-News and SENS announcement) was “a skewed and contrived version of a bland, poorly drafted and largely exculpatory forensic report”. He said inferences which appear to have been drawn in Annexure 2 of the report rely on the flawed Forensic Report which are premature and inconclusive.
“The language and leaps of logic in Annexure 2 appear to have been designed to embarrass Mr Ottapathu instead of focusing on what the Forensic Report actually says.” Like the Legal Report, the Forensic Report took “excessive liberties with its assumptions and its fundamental premises are flawed”. The report’s methodology was flawed and its “credibility is questionable at best”. He adds: “Annexure 2 presents an inaccurate and incorrect summary of the report. In addition, the forensic report fails to verify any of the information it received and failed to resolve any conflicting versions of facts presented to it. Instead, it simply ignored certain facts.
As a result, it cannot credibly resolve any issues relating to the finalisation of the 2018 annual financial statements.”
Despite being hailed and still regarded as a hero who saved many lives through his decision to crash the BF5 fighter Jet around the national stadium on the eve of the 2018 BDF day, the deceased Pilot, Major Clifford Manyuni’s actions were treated as a letdown within the army, especially by his master-Commander of the Air Arm, Major General Innocent Phatshwane.
Manyuni’s master says he was utterly disappointed with his Pilot’s failure to perform “simple basics.”
Manyuni was regarded as a hero through social media for his ‘colourful exploits’, but Phatshwane who recently retired as the Air Arm Commander, revealed to WeekendPost in an exclusive interview that while he appreciated Batswana’s outpouring of emotions and love towards his departed Pilot, he strongly felt let down by the Pilot “because there was nothing wrong with that Fighter Jet and Manyuni did not report any problem either.”
The deceased Pilot, Manyuni was known within the army to be an upwardly mobile aviator and in particular an air power proponent.
“I was hurt and very disappointed because nobody knows why he decided to crash a well-functioning aircraft,” stated Phatshwane – a veteran pilot with over 40 years of experience under the Air Arm unit.
Phatshwane went on to express shock at Manyuni’s flagrant disregard for the rules of the game, “they were in a formation if you recall well and the guiding principle in that set-up is that if you have any problem, you immediately report to the formation team leader and signal a break-away from the formation.
Manyuni disregarded all these basic rules, not even to report to anybody-team members or even the barracks,” revealed Phatshwane when engaged on the much-publicised 2018 incident that took the life of a Rakops-born Pilot of BDF Class 27 of 2003/2004.
Phatshwane quickly dismisses the suggestion that perhaps the Fighter Jet could have been faulty, “the reasons why I am saying I was disappointed is that the aircraft was also in good condition and well-functioning. It was in our best interest to know what could have caused the accident and we launched a wholesale post-accident investigation which revealed that everything in the structure was working perfectly well,” he stated.
Phatshwane continued: “we thoroughly assessed the condition of the engine of the aircraft as well as the safety measures-especially the ejection seat which is the Pilot’s best safety companion under any life-threatening situation. All were perfectly functional.”
In aircrafts, an ejection seat or ejector seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. The seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it.”
Manyuni knew about all these safety measures and had checked their functionality prior to using the Aircraft as is routine practice, according to Phatshwane. Could Manyuni have been going through emotional distress of some sort? Phatshwane says while he may never really know about that, what he can say is that there are laid out procedures in aviation guiding instances of emotional instability which Manyuni also knew about.
“We don’t allow or condone emotionally or physically unfit Pilots to take charge of an aircraft. If a Pilot feels unfit, he reports and requests to be excused. We will subsequently shift the task to another Pilot. We do this because we know the risks of leaving an unfit pilot to fly an aircraft,” says Phatshwane.
Despite having happened a day before the BDF day, Phatshwane says the BDF day mishap did not really affect the BDF day preparations, although it emotionally distracted Manyuni’s flying formation squad a bit, having seen him break away from the formation to the stone-hearted ground. The team soldiered on and immediately reported back to base for advice and way forward, according to Phatshwane.
Sharing the details of the ordeal and his Pilots’ experiences, Phatshwane said: “they (pilots) were in distress, who wouldn’t? They were especially hurt by the deceased‘s lack of communication. I immediately called a chaplain to attend to their emotional needs.
He came and offered them counselling. But soldiers don’t cry, they immediately accepted that a warrior has been called, wiped off their tears and instantly reported back for duty. I am sure you saw them performing miracles the following day at the BDF day as arranged.”
Despite the matter having attracted wide publicity, the BDF kept the crash details a distance away from the public, a move that Phatshwane felt was not in the best interest of the army and public.
“The incident attracted overwhelming public attention. Not only that, there were some misconceptions attached to the incident and I thought it was upon the BDF to come out and address those for the benefit of the public and army’s reputation,” he said.
One disturbing narrative linked to the incident was that Manyuni heroically wrestled the ‘faulty’ aircraft away from the endangered public to die alone, a narrative which Phatshwane disputes as just people’s imaginations. “Like I said the Aircraft was functioning perfectly,” he responded.
A close family member has hinted that the traumatised Manyuni family, at the time of their son’s tragedy, strongly accused the BDF ‘of killing their son’. Phatshwane admits to this development, emphasising that “Manyuni’s mother was visibly and understandably in inconsolable pain when she uttered those words”.
Phatshwane was the one who had to travel to Rakops through the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS) aircraft to deliver the sad news to the family but says he found the family already in the know, through social media. At the time of his death, Manyuni was survived by both parents, two brothers, a sister, fiancée and one child. He was buried in Rakops in an emotionally-charged burial. Like his remains, the BDF fighter jets have been permanently rested.
A matter in which former President Lt Gen Ian Khama had brought before Broadhurst Police Station in Gaborone, requesting the State to charge Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime (DCEC) lead investigator, Jako Hubona and others with perjury has been committed to Headquarters because it involves “elders.”
Broadhurst Police Station Commander, Obusitswe Lokae, told this publication this week that the case in its nature is high profile so the matter has been allocated to his Officer Commanding No.3 District who then reported to the Divisional Commander who then sort to commit it to Police Headquarters.