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Ram falls in Choppies battle with Mogae

Choppies Enterprises Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ramachandran Ottapathu has suffered a major setback after his gambit to have former President Festus Mogae removed as the retail giant’s board chairman was met with a suspension on his part.

Choppies Board, under the tutelage of Mogae resolved Wednesday to suspend Ottapathu as the CEO of the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) listed company.  According to Ottapathu, the suspension came in the disguise of a recommendation from a certain law firm in South Africa, owing to the recent troubles facing the retail giant. The Choppies supremo however believes what triggered suspension was a proposal he had submitted to the company board to have Mogae removed as Board chairman, and also have new faces with relevant retail experience in the board.

“At his age, he need to know the impact on his productivity level. He was sick also. He has been missing a lot of board meeting until last year September,” Ottapathu said of Mogae this week.  The suggestion reportedly irked Mogae and the rest of the board, save for Farouk Ismail, who then moved swiftly to have Ottapathu suspended.  Choppies board, which is constituted of seven member, including Ottapathu himself had majority to effect the decision, as only Ismail opposed the resolution.

“I came up with suggestions to the board at the request of the shareholders to have restructuring of the board; issues around chairman’s independence. This was not started by me, but when I suggested changes, some people in the board got annoyed,” narrated Ottapathu.
“They gave me an option, you resign now or we are going to suspend you.  I was not prepared to do that. This is the company I started, and they did not even have a replacement. Before I received my suspension letter it was on the social media.”

Ottapathu spoke highly of Ismail, who has since been appointed Acting CEO, noting that the latter is the only one who understands the Choppies business because they are always in touch.  “Farouk [Ismail] is the only person who knows intimately and knowledgeably about the business in the board. None of them have ran one day of their own business and made money for themselves,” he said.  He was however not kind to other Choppies board members, saying none of them have ran a profitable business before.

“He [Ismail] spends time with me. He makes appointments with me, so that he gets every information about the company. That is why is he does not have any doubt about any transaction or any activity we do,” said Ottapathu.  “Other board members, including the chairman, when they get free time, if at all he gets it, he walks in [my office] and meet me for about 30 minutes or one hour. That’s not what you expect from a chairman. It does not happen anywhere in the world.”

The Choppies chief said if it all the decision to suspend him has anything to do with personal vendetta, the decision to suspend him was not in the interest of the company. “They have been reckless. They do not have the interest of the company at heart that one is for sure, because someone reasonably thinking cannot do this.” Ottapathu said one of the key reasons he wanted the board restructured was the verity that the company was growing, therefore creating necessity for change.

“This is one of the fastest growing company in the region. We needed retail or relevant experience in governance, and in the audit committee and in other areas,” said Ottapathu. “I did discuss with the chairman two years ago about relinquishing the power. He said give time, I will think about it, and I will make the right decision. But he did not do that.” Choppies was founded by Ismail in the 1980s and was joined by Ottapathu in 1992. Ever since then, the duo built the company into a dominant player in the country and the South African Development Committee (SADC) region.

Ottapathu said he has since engaged his lawyers to write to company lawyers requesting them to demonstrate valid reasons relating to his suspension.  He also indicated that in the coming days he will meet with the company’s important shareholders to brief them on the new developments.  Ottapathu, Ismail and Choppies employees collectively owns 46 percent of the company stock. Institutional investors owns about 26 percent, while the rest is owned by the public.

Ottapathu is of the opinion that the Choppies board, which had he said played no role in building the business, are behaving they were they do because they have nothing to lose. “For them they have nothing to lose. They lose this position of board, the can sit in another board. I do not have any other thing to do in my life. I do not want another entrepreneur to have the same experience that is why I am going to fight it until the last end. I want to set it as a example to make sure it does not happen in another board room.”  

At its heart is a battle for control of Choppies Enterprises Ltd – an investment holding company listed, but currently suspended, on both Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). 
The group which operates 260 stores in Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Namibia, and employs more than 17 000 people.

Mr Ottapathu joined Choppies in 1992 when it was a single insolvent store in Gaborone. Now, over 50% of Batswana shop regularly in its stores and Choppies is a much-loved household name – or it was until the Choppies Board put Mr Ottapathu on “precautionary suspension” this week and replaced him with the Deputy Chair, Mr. Farouk Ismail.

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 Zakhem vindicated

15th September 2021
Zakhem

Botswana Football Association (BFA) leadership appears to be bowing down to Nicolas Zakhem’s football pressure. The development comes to the open roughly 24 hours after the Gaborone United director publicly labelled Maclean Letshwiti and his committee failures for deciding to chop five premier league clubs under the pretext of club licensing disqualification.

As early as Wednesday noon, the BFA emergency committee met with one agenda item to discuss the possibility of reinstating the clubs. This publication gathers that the committee saw it fit to pardon the five clubs without entertaining a second thought. The committee even invited the clubs to the meeting, sources say.

Late last month, the five teams were disqualified from playing in the premier league, pending the appeal outcome. The teams are Notwane, Extension Gunners, BR Highlanders, Mogoditshane Fighters, together with Gilport Lions. The immediate decision by BFA follows what Zakhem had said and advised that it was wrong to chop clubs given the COVID-19 situation in the country.

Unbeknownst to BFA leadership, observers stress that Zakhem exerted public pressure and influenced them to change tone without asking. At the meeting, BFA president Maclean Letshwiti, his vices, Marshlow Motlogelwa and Masego Ntshingane, Aryl Ralebala, the Botswana Football League (BFL) chairman, together with Alec Fela, an ordinary member in the now stubborn NEC.

However, the reactive move by the association to reinstate the clubs is highly welcomed in certain quarters, but it also appears to have left a permanent scar, especially at BFL. As things stand, the general feeling on the ground is to oust chairman Ralebala for failing to defend these clubs before the eyes of President Letshwiti.

This publication has intercepted an ongoing petition to unseat Ralebala and his deputies from the BFL board. Strange enough, the signed petition has thus far attracted clubs with household influence in the league itself. GU, Township Rollers, Notwane, Extension Gunners, Police XI are some clubs that have already appended their signatures to have Ralebala removed.

The big clubs are believed to fighting for principle and demand fair governance at BFL. The reality is that these clubs command a large following, and sponsors can always have a say based on their presence.

When approached for clarity, Ralebala said he could not comment on allegations or issues that lack substance. He concedes that he has heard about the rolling petition but is yet to lay his eyes on it.
“I have heard about the petition, but I don’t know where it is coming from. I think it is best you ask those who have signed it. My focus is to commence the league and make sure everything is on point,” said Ralebala.

Football observers state that Ralebala, together with Letshwiti, are now faced with a dilemma. Reports coming from Lekidi Football Centre, although yet to be fabricated, are that the big guns lead others to form a parallel structure where they will play on their league. The clubs are angry at their chairman for taking many of the instructions from the BFA boss, and already a general melee is gathering traction that the two must resign as football has lost direction.

Zakhem says, although he supported Letshwiti, he has a sense of duty to stand for the truth. “I knew I supported Letshwiti and his troops, but you see, these guys have lost direction. I have long advised them that chopping clubs like this will cause confusion and delay progress, but they cannot listen. Letshwiti gave BFL autonomy, but I do not know why he is still interfering,” Zakhem said.

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The untold brighter side of the P100bn case fall

15th September 2021
President Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi

You may, by now, have heard about the dark side of the high profile P100 billion case, but wait, there is also the brighter side. Staff Writer AUBREY LUTE explores the positives accruing from the fall of the country’s biggest financial ‘scam-dal’.

A chance to fix the country’s financial record

They have not publicly been saying it, but the state agencies and the President, Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi, have been at pains to explain and rationalise how an amount almost equal to the country’s GPD left the central bank.

Many insiders attributed the country‘s troubled financial status to the case, including the grey-listing, non-compliance and identified deficiencies, some of which were hitting citizens around the globe. Botswana was in 2018 taken aback by FATF news that the country has been listed alongside countries that do not comply with (AML/CFT). The European Union Commission later flagged Botswana in March 2019 for lacking strategic deficiencies in AML/CFT regulations.

A chance to restore the dignity of the law enforcement arms

The case, without a doubt, was a distraction object on the law enforcement agencies, which spent a chunk of their time bickering and finger-pointing. A leaked audio recording exposing the explosive meeting of the law enforcement arms of government, being the Intelligence Services, Corruption and Economic Crimes agency, and the Prosecutions division summed it all.

The case presented a monumental crisis threatening the core of their being. Following these developments, the Presidency, clearly under the influence of a tripartite member, took a spine-chilling decision to disband the DCEC, a move that was saved by the organisation’s founding director- Tymon Katlholo’s bold protest.

The DPP, the Police, and the DCEC staff were used in the process to carry out bizarre instructions, some of which left the state with an egg on its face. Mistrust and backstabbing were the order of the day within the law enforcement agencies, and the P100 billion case was to blame. “Some badly wanted the plot executed while the other side badly wanted it to end to restore sanity,” an insider says.

The source further adds that “if the case did not end soon, it was going to end a lot of people’s relationships and careers because those who refused to carry the insane instructions were seen as sympathisers to former President Ian Khama.” With the case having fallen, these agencies can reflect, reconcile and go back to work.

A chance to fix diplomatic relations…

It was not only South Africa that was accused of Sabotaging Botswana’s prosecutorial goal. The state also accused several countries of refusing or delaying to assist in the process. Of all the nations, only South Africa has decided to take Botswana to task, perhaps on its proximity to Botswana. Others long ignored Botswana’s requests for assistance to the frustration of former DPP deputy director who repeatedly told the courts that they were struggling to get responses from the international community. With the case having fallen, Botswana may get a chance to face her actions, apologise and rectify the promise that lessons have been learnt.

Pressure off the shoulders of those who have to account…

The case did not only affect the law enforcement agencies. All the stakeholders were put in the spotlight to provide answers. The first to bolt out of the circle was the central bank, Moses Pelaelo, who, like DCEC director-general, long declared the case a scam. He told the world that his books were in order and that no money was missing risking his high-paying job.

According to insiders, his superiors, the then Minister of Finance and Development Planning – Dr Matsheka and his subordinate, Dr Wildfred Mandlebe, were only whispering, without success, to the Gods that there is no money missing.

So concerned and under pressure was Dr Sethibe- then the head of the Financial Intelligence Agency- who, like his Ministry supervisors, was engaging in silent screams to warn the powers that be, all in vain. He later jumped the ship to his former employer, the University of Botswana, allegedly to protect his name and career.

At the time of the fall of the case, the DIS and the DPP were at advanced plans to higher American to come and probe the Bank of Botswana’s servers in a move that bankers feared could compromise them further.

The case was bleeding the country’s coffers…

Had it not ended, the case was likely to end up ‘genuinely’ costing the country P100 billion Pula duo to its complexity and challenges. Insiders say sources who had sold the law enforcement agencies some falsified documents were paid handsomely.

Moreover, investigations were costly as they involved the international community and frequent travelling. “We are told there was also motivation for some officers to act abysmally and out of their way,” an insider said.

Lessons leant for public officers…

Public officers are often duty-bound to obey superiors instructions, no matter how irrational. The case was an eye-opener to many public officers that principle pays in the discharge of one’s duty at all times. The professional careers of the P100 billion case conspirators are currently in shambles. And as expected, the influencers, if at all there any, are nowhere to be seen.

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Botswana could exit FATF “greylisting” in October 

15th September 2021
President Dr Masisi & Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame

Botswana remains on the grey list of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the “black list” of the European Union, a status quo that highlights the country as one of the high-risk jurisdictions to deal with money.

The far-reaching implications of these listings is a compromised Foreign Direct Investment drive for Botswana. In particular, these listings mean investors now have to exercise some caution and restrain when thinking about putting their money in Botswana. On Tuesday, Minister of Finance and Economic Development Peggy Serame said that Botswana could see itself out of the “undesirable listing” by October this year.

Serame called for united and concerted efforts towards liberating Botswana out of this financial noncompliance tag. She said the delisting could be archived by concerted efforts from all stakeholders: players in the financial services sector, non-financial services businesses, regulators, and every individual who deals with transactions.

Botswana is a founding member of the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG). This regional body subscribes to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to combat money laundering and financing of terrorism and proliferation.

One of the membership obligations to ESAAMLG is for Botswana to be peer-reviewed by the other Member States and other international bodies like the World Bank, IMF or FATF.
The most recent assessment for Botswana to gauge compliance with the FATF standards was conducted by ESAAMLG in 2016 and culminated with publishing the Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) in 2017.

Following the discussion and adoption by the Task Force and approval of the MER by the Council of Ministers, the country was placed under enhanced follow-up.  This led to a one (1) year observation period in which the country was expected to improve its technical compliance (legislative framework) by correcting the deficiencies identified in the MER.

After one year, in October 2018, the Task Force decided that the country was not taking sufficient steps to implement the recommendations made by the assessors in the MER.  The Task Force recommended that Botswana be referred to the International Cooperation Review Group (ICRG) for monitoring and potential listing often referred to as the ‘FATF greylisting”.

Following the FATF greylisting, the EU placed Botswana on its list of high-risk third countries, often referred to as the ‘black list.’ In 2018, Botswana and FATF agreed to an Action Plan that had six items with several timelines. In terms of Risk and coordination, Botswana was told to develop and implement a risk-based comprehensive national AML/CFT strategy, assess the risks associated with legal persons, legal arrangements, and NPOs, and operationalize the modernized company registry to obtain and maintain essential information and Ultimate Beneficial Ownership information.

Botswana was further advised to enhance the capacity of the supervisory staff, including by developing risk-based supervision manuals and providing adequate training, implement risk-based AML/CFT supervision and impose sanctions against violations.

Furthermore, Botswana was instructed to improve analysis and dissemination of financial intelligence by the Financial Intelligence Unit, including operationalizing an online Suspicious Transactions Report filing platform and prioritizing high-risk predicate crimes, and enhancing the use of financial intelligence among the relevant law enforcement agencies.

Regarding terrorism financing investigation, Botswana was instructed to develop and implement a Counter Financing of Terrorism Strategy, operationalize the Counter-Terrorism Analysis and Fusion Centre, and ensure the Terrorism Financing investigation capacity of the law enforcement agencies.

In 2018, the 11th Parliament passed 25 pieces and, later, six others related to AML/CFT/CFP. At the just ended Parliamentary session of the 12th Parliament, lawmakers passed the Financial Intelligence (Amendment) Act to address the definition of beneficial ownership.

Cabinet approved the National AML/CFT/CFP Strategy of 2019-2024 in October 2019. At the June 2021 FATF Plenary meetings, the FATF made the initial determination that Botswana had substantially addressed the Action Plan and that this warranted an on-site assessment to verify that the implementation of Botswana’s AML/CFT/CFP reforms is in place and is being sustained.
Furthermore, an assessment was to be instituted to check if the necessary political commitment remains to sustain implementation in the future.

Serame said in a televised press briefing that Botswana’s exit from the FATF grey list and the EU black list would be determined by the outcome of the on-site assessment, which will be discussed at the FATF Plenary in October 2021.

She revealed that the Botswana delegation attended the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group 42nd Task Force of Senior Officials meeting from the 26th August to the 6th September 2021, followed by the Council of Ministers on the 7th September 2021.

She told the media that at these meetings, Botswana was commended for making progress in complying with the FATF standards by addressing deficiencies in her AML/CFT/CFP framework.
“We are making all these efforts of complying with the FATF standards so that we guard against our financial system being used for money laundering, terrorism financing and proliferation financing,” she said.

“We are hopeful that at the October 2021 FATF Plenary meetings, the outcome of the on-site visit undertaken by the FATF in August 2021 will bear positive results, leading to Botswana being delisted from the FATF greylisting,” she said. However, Minister Serame called on all stakeholders to support the government to remove Botswana from the greylisting.

“As Government continues its efforts of putting in place the necessary legislative and institutional framework, due diligence must be exercised by all institutions, including the ordinary Motswana, so that no one is found dealing with financiers whose credibility is wanting,” she said.

The minister reiterated that all players in the financial services sector had a role to play: “It is important that where unsolicited funds are offered, the individual or entity so receiving the offer must ensure that the funds being offered are not associated with unlawful acts. If we are not diligent, criminals may use unsuspecting people and entities to launder proceeds of crime.”

She reiterated that the government is committed to doing all within its power to remove the country from the FATF “grey list” and the EU “black list”. However, she noted that to achieve that requires the cooperation and assistance of financial institutions, designated non-financial businesses and professions and individuals to ensure full compliance with AML/CFT/CFP rules and regulations.

“These efforts will not only assist us to be removed from these mentioned lists but are for the benefit of our country to maintain a high standard of financial prudence and an economy which genuine investors can have the confidence to invest in,” Serame explained.

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