Choppies Enterprises Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ramachandran Ottapathu and his deputy, Farouk Ismail are demanding a compensation of P450 million from accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers (Pwc) following a 75 percent decline in market value of Choppies shares traded on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE) and Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).
Ottapathu and Ismail, who are the two largest shareholders at Choppies, demand P254 million and P197 million respectively. Ottapathu further demands R417 000 (about P290 000).
PwC which ranks as the second-largest professional services network in the world — and is considered one of the Big Four accounting firms, along with Deloitte, EY and KPMG — was at the helm as auditor of Choppies when the retail giant suffered turbulence.
According to court papers, Ottapathu and Ismail, who are represented by Ramalepa Attorneys, in January 2018 when Choppies began discussions with Pwc regarding engagement of Pwc as external auditors of Choppies and its subsidiaries.
From that time, Pwc was given the opportunity to obtain insight into the business of Choppies and on or about 25th January 2018, Pwc presented to Ottapathu in his capacity as CEO, its fee proposal.
In the fee proposal, according to court papers, Rudi Binedell a partner at Pwc confirmed that he had assessed Choppies engagement risk in order to ensure that Pwc had a complete understanding of the business of Choppies as it is only possible before presenting the fee proposal. Binedell had completed process that confirmed that Pwc were independent of Choppies within the meaning of appropriate regulatory and professional requirements, and that the objectivity of the proposed audit team was not impaired.
Agreement was reached on 9 March 2018. According to the court documents, Choppies engaged Pwc on the basis of Pwc and Binedell’s representations and assurances contained in the Audit Agreement 2018, and also on the basis that Pwc and Binedell were independent and that Pwc and Binedell would remain independent throughout the course of audit.
In terms of the Audit Agreement 2018 and the ISA, specifically ISA 260 (Communication with Those Charged with Governance), Pwc was required to plan their audit and communicate their plan to Choppies and specifically those charged with corporate governance, namely the audit committee.
Ismail and Ottapathu contend that from at least 19 March 2018, Pwc and Binedell were aware, or ought reasonably to have been aware that, they were required to; finalise the audit and report key findings to the Audit Committee by no later than the end of September 2018 and issue the final statements and their audit report by no later than the end of September 2018.
On the 6 July 2018, Binedell, on behalf Pwc, presented on behalf of Pwc, an audit plan for Choppies and its subsidiaries to the Audit Committee for their consideration and approval. The presentation set out how Pwc would discharge their responsibilities under the audit among them confirming their independence and compliance with ISA 20; understanding of stakeholders’ expectations and analysis of risks.
The audit timetable reveal that, about May or June 2018, Pwc would attend the stock counts and finalise the audits strategy and communicate the audit approach to the committee; by June 2018, Pwc would set out its planned audit approach and response to the risk they have identified for the audit to date.
By September 2018, Pwc would produce a report that summarises the key issues arising from the audit and present to the audit committee; produce a draft key audit matter and obtain clearance; approve the financial statements; and sign off on the statutory report. Pwc proposed a fee of approximately P8 480 00.
BINEDELL’S COMPROMISED INDEPENDENCE
In court documents, Ottapathu and Ismail allege that on March 2018, the date which Pwc made its preliminary presentation to the Audit Committee, Binedell attended a dinner with Robert Matthews and Allan Muller, members of Choppies Audit Committee.
During the dinner, the court documents say, Binedell discussed with Matthews and Muller various issues relating to Choppies and Pwc’s audit of Choppies for the 2018 financial year.
Muller requested that Binedell joins Choppies as the Group Finance Director and hereby solicited his employment by Choppies. Subsequent to the meeting, Ottapathu and Ismail, allege that Muller and/or Matthews repeated this request to Binedell and indeed other of Choppies’ management on several occasions.
“Matthews had suggested that the Choppies Board should consider Binedell be given 60 million shares in Choppies under the employee share option scheme, as an incentive,” says the court documents.
“Ottapathu was requested by Muller and/or Matthews to formalise an offer to Binedell in writing.”
The lawyers representing Ottapathu and Ismail contended that Muller and/or Matthews made these requests and thereby solicited the employment of Binedell when they ought to have known that this was in contravention of the Audit Agreement 2018 and that it would compromise Binedell’s independence and the independence of Pwc throughout the audit.
“As a result of these facts, Pwc bore an obligation, contractually and in terms of their ethical obligation to immediately; take action in accordance with ISA 260 and IESBA Code of Ethics, and report such threats to those charged with governance and then either (1) to resign as auditors of Choppies; and alternatively and at the very least, to remove Binedell from the audit team,” Ramalepa Attorneys argues.
Pwc and Binedell, lawyers argue, failed to do so and Pwc proceeded to conduct that audits of Choppies and its subsidiaries, with the audit team as it was then constituted, led by Binedell.
AUDIT DELAYS AND SUSPENSION OF OTTAPATHU
On or about 17th September 2018, and at a Boarding meeting, Binedell advised the Board of Directors of Choppies that he would not be able to finalise audit in Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe due to a number of audit issues, some of which affect all regions and of which were specific to certain regions only.
Binedell identified a number of issues of concern in which he implicated Ottapathu’s management of Choppies, and specifically the following a) related party transactions, particularly Fours Cash and Carry; Purchase Price Allocations on assets acquired; allegedly suspicious cash flows between Choppies and Devland Cash and Carry; issues with ZIA and concerns on money laundering accusations in Zimbabwe; latest provisional set of consolidated financials provided on the morning of 17 September 2018- showing a material deviation from both last year’s results and the budgeted figures for the 2018 financial and reportable irregularities identified by the auditors during the audit process.
Binedell noted his concerns about lack of transparency as well pressure from Pwc Africa Chief Operation on his association with Choppies due to Zimbabwe press issues.
Other issues he raised advising Choppies to obtain legal advice in South Africa and Botswana arising from transactions and advice on how the Board should as well as on the Board potential “exposure.”
Owing to the concerns raised by Binedell, Pwc felt exposed and would not “sign off” on the financials until various matters were resolved, therefore Choppies would not meet the deadline to publish audited annual financial results by 30 September 2018.
Consequent to Binedell’s report Ottapathu was suspended as Choppies CEO, trading of Choppies shares be suspended and a forensic audit was commissioned.
Ottapathu responded to Binedell’s concerns by proving information and documentation but Pwc insisted on an independent forensic auditor.
Failure to meet the audited financial results on time led to the suspension on BSE and later on JSE.
Other mitigation efforts, including impairing 50 percent of the assets on Choppies balance sheet also did not bear fruits.
Ottapathu, Ismail conclude that Pwc disregarded the statutory deadlines and that as dully appointed auditors of Choppies, Pwc and Binedell occupied stator office and they were obliged to among others, comply with Companies Act and Financial Reporting Act .
The duo conclude that by virtue of the role performed by Binedell and Pwc as the statutory auditor of Choppies and its subsidiaries and in implementing the Audit Agreement 2018; and by the virtue of their knowledge, Binedell and Pwc owed a legal duty to Ottapathu and Ismail as shareholders of Choppies.
Ottapathu and Ismail, through their lawyers, insist that Binedell and Pwc breached their duty to shareholders, when Binedell accepted a dinner invitation on 19 March 2018, from Matthews and Muller and then Pwc and Binedell then failed to eliminate the threatens to their independence arising therefrom or to apply appropriate safeguards to reduce such threats to an acceptable level.
In a classic and shocking case of disgrace and dishonour to this country, the law enforcement agencies are currently struggling to cover up a damaging and humiliating scandal of having conspired to forge the signature of a Palapye Chief Magistrate, Rebecca Motsamai in an unlawful acquisition of the much-publicised 2019 warrant of arrest against Isaac Kgosi, the former director of the Directorate of Intelligence Services (DIS).
The cloak-and-dagger arrest was led by the DIS director, Brigadier Peter Magosi supported by the Botswana Police, Botswana Defence Force (BDF), with the Botswana Unified Revenue Services (BURS) which accused Kgosi of tax evasion, in the backseat.
Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC) constituent members are struggling to reach an agreement over the allocation of wards for the imminent ward by-elections across the country.
Despite a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) and Alliance for Progressives (AP) are said to be active, but the nitty-gritties are far from being settled.
The eight bye-elections will be a precursor of a somewhat delayed finalisation of the brittle MoU. The three parties want to draw a plan on how and who will contest in each of the available wards.
This publication has gathered that the negotiations will not be a run off the mill because there is already an impasse between the Botswana Congress Party (BCP) which is a UDC constituent and AP (currently negotiating to join umbrella).
The by-elections joint committee met last week at Cresta President Hotel in a bid to finalise allocation but nothing tangible came out of the gathering, sources say.
The cause of the stalemate according to those close to events, is the Metsimotlhabe Ward which the two parties have set their eyes on.
In 2019, he ward was won by Botswana Democratic Party’s (BDP) Andrew Sebobi who unfortunately died in a tragic accident in February last year.
Sebobi had convincingly won by 1 109 votes in the last elections; and was trailed by Sephuthi Thelo of the UDC trailed him with 631 votes; while Alliance for Progressives’ Innocent Moamogwe got 371 votes.
Thelo is a BCP candidate and as per UDC norm, incumbency prevails meaning that the BCP will contest since they were runners up. On the other hand, AP has also raised its hand for the same.
“AP asked for it on the basis that they have a good candidate but BCP did not agree to that request also arguing they have a better contestant,” one UDC member confided to this publication.
Notwithstanding Metsimotlhabe Ward squabble, it is said the by-election talks are almost a done deal, with Botswana National Front (BNF) tipped to take Boseja South ward in Mochudi East constituency. Botswana Patriotic Front (BPF) will be awarded Tamasane Ward in Lerala/Maunatlala constituency, sources say.
“But the agreement has to be closed by National Executive Committee (NEC),” emphasized the informant.
The NEC is said to have been cautioned not to back the wrong horse but rather rate with reason and facts.
UDC President, Duma Boko has told this publication that, “allocation is complete with two wards already awarded but with only one yet to be finalized,” he could not dwell into much details as to which party got what and the reasons for the delay in finalisation.
Chairperson of the by-elections committee, Dr. Phenyo Butale responded to this publication regarding the matter: “As AP we contested and as you may be aware we signed the MoU with UDC and BPF to collaborate on bye-elections. The opposition candidate for all bye-elections will be agreed by these parties and that process is still ongoing,” he said when asked if AP is interested on the ward and how far with the talks on bye-elections.
Butale, a former Gaborone Central Member of Parliament, who is also AP Secretary General continued to say, “As the chairperson of the bye-elections committee we are still seized with that matter. We should also do some consultations with the local structures. Once the process is complete we will issue a notice for now we cannot talk about the other two while the other is still pending the other one”.
Butale further clarified: “There is no such thing as AP and BCP not in agreement. It is an issue of signatories discussing and determining the opposition candidates across the three wards.”
Apart from the three wards, there are five more council wards that UDC is yet to allocate to cooperating partners.
FROM PALAPYE MEET: BPP CAUTION NEC MEMBERS
With the UDC cheerful from last weekend’s meeting in Palapye, the meeting however was very tense on the side of both BCP and BNF, with only BPP flexing its muscle and even lashing out.
BCP going into the meeting, had promised to ask difficult questions to the UDC NEC.
BCP VP and also acting Secretary General, Dr. Kesitegile Gobotswang, presented their qualms which were addressed by UDC Chairperson Motlatsi Molapisi, informants say.
It is said Molapisi is fed up and concerned by some UDC members especially those in the NEC who ‘wash party’s dirty linen in public’.
Insiders say the veteran politician cautioned the NEC members that they “will not expel any party but individuals who tarnish the image of the UDC.”
It is not the first time BPP play a paternalistic role as it once expressed its discontent with BCP in 2020, saying it should never wash UDC linen in public.
At first it is said, BPP, the oldest political formation in Botswana, claims disappointment on BCP stance that UDC should be democratised especially by sharing their stand with the media. Again, BPP was not happy with BCP leader Dumelang Saleshando’s decision to air his personal views on social media regarding the merger of UDC party.
Botswana Police Service (BPS) Commissioner, Keabetswe Makgophe, has of late been dousing raging fires from various quarters of society following the infiltration of the police fingerprint system by the Directorate on Intelligence and Security (DIS), WeekendPost has learnt.
Fresh information gleaned from a number of impeccable sources, points to a pitiable working relationship between the two state organs. Cause of concern is the DIS continuous big brother role to an extent that it is now interfering with other institutions’ established mandates.
BPS which works closely with the DIS has been left exasperated by the works of the institution formed in 2008. It is said, the DIS through its Information Technology (IT) experts in collusion with some at BPS forensics department managed to infiltrate the Fingerprint system.
The infiltration, according to those in the know, was for the DIS to “teach a lesson” to some who are on their radar. It is said the DIS is playing and fighting dirty to win the fights they have lost before.
By managing to hack the police finger print system, a number of renowned businessmen and other politically exposed persons found their fingers in the system. What surprised the victims is the fact that they have never been charged of any wrongdoing by the police and they were left reeling in shock to learn that their fingers are on the data-base of criminals.
In fact, some of those who their fingerprints were falsely included in the records of those on the wrong side of law learnt later when other errands demanded their fingerprints.
“We learnt later when we had to submit and buy some documents and we were very shocked,” one politician who is also a businessman confided to this publication this week.
“We then learn that there are some fabricated criminality recorded for us, as to when did we commit those remained secret to the police, but then we had to engage our lawyers on the matter and that is when we were cleared,” said the politician-cum- tenderpreneur.
The lawyers have confirmed engaging the police and that the matters were settled in a gentlemen’s agreement and concluded.
All these happened behind the scenes with the police top brass oblivious only to be confronted by the irked lot, police sources also add. The victimized group who most of them have been fighting lengthy battles with the DIS read malice and did not blink when it was revealed that these were done by the DIS.
“And it was clear that they (DIS) are the ones in this dirty war which we don’t understand. Remember when we sue, it will be the Police at the courts not the DIS and that is why we agreed to a ceasefire more so they also requested that be kept under carpet,” said the victim.
Nonetheless, the Police through its spokesperson Assistant Commissioner, Dipheko Motube, briefly said: “we do not have any system that has been hacked.” On the other hand DIS mouthpiece Edward Robert was not in office this week to comment on the matter.
Reports however say DIS boss, Peter Magosi, who most of the victims accuse of the job, is said to have met his police counterpart Makgophe to put the matter to bed.
COVID-19 RAVAGES POLICE
As frontline workers, Police have not escaped the wrath of Covid-19. Already the numbers of those infected has reached the highest of high and they suggest that they be priorities on vaccine rollout.
“Our job is complicated, firstly we arrest including those who are non-compliant to Covid protocols and we go to accidents and many more. These put us at risk and it seems our superiors are not bothered,” said one police officer this week.
The cops further complain about that working spaces are small, as such expose them to contact the virus.
“Some tests positive and go for quarantine while the rest of the unit will be left without even test carried out. If at all the bosses are serious all the police officers should every now and then be subjected to testing or else we will be no more because of the virus,” added another officer based in Gaborone.
The government has since placed teachers on the priority list for the vaccines, it remains to be seen whether the police, who also man road blocks, will be considered.
“But our bosses should convince the country leadership about this, if not then we are doomed,” concluded a more senior officer.