The SA Express joint provisional liquidators have instituted an investigation to find any traces of reckless trading, misappropriation of funds and non-statutory payments by the airline’s previous board of directors.
The investigation will look into the airline’s transactions prior to it being placed under provisional liquidation in April. If found that SA Express continued to trade under insolvent circumstances or that the previous board presided over dodgy dealings at the airline, the directors could be found guilty of reckless trading under the Companies Act.
Section 417 and 418 of the act allows the Master of the High Court, or the courts, to look into the affairs of an insolvent company and to summon, for questioning, any director, officer or any other person suspected of being in possession of information relating to the company.
Those summoned may be asked to give evidence about their knowledge of the insolvent company’s trade, affairs or any other dealings that may have indebted the company.
“During the course of our investigation if we find that there was something untoward in relation [to any] specific transaction, we have the power to set aside the specific transaction and recover any benefit derived from either the company or an individual associated with that transaction,” provisional liquidator Aviwe Ndyamara told Moneyweb.
The inquiry was prompted various issues including the investigations into fraud and corruption by various state authorities as well as various request from stakeholders with allegations of misappropriation of funds or reckless trading, Ndyamara says.
“The inquiry into the airline’s previous transactions is a way for creditors to recover any lost funds, according to Ndyamara,” he adds.
SA Express has been a serial underperformer over the past few years, even failing to pay employee salaries since March. In February, it had a debt burden of R11.3 million and was placed under business rescue.
The airline was also allocated R143.5 million during the February 2020 budget to provide for the risk associated with aircraft leases, which had been guaranteed by the government.
Public Enterprises spokesperson Sam Mkokeli says these funds have been paid out as the anticipated risk materialised.
By April, after the rescue practitioners failed to secure post-commencement financing, the airline was placed under provisional liquidation.
Employee ownership bid
The liquidators subsequently accepted a bid from worker-owned company Fly SAX to buy the airline. In October, the employee-owned company beat out 16 other interested buyers for the purchase of the airline.
According to the bid proposal, the government will only own 27% of the new airline.
The employees will have a 25% stake, and the remaining 48% will be owned by investors from crowdfunding platform Uprise.Africa and an anchor investor.
This deal has however not yet been finalised. The Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) is yet to accept or decline the shareholding agreement. Talks with the airline will likely be concluded at the end of November once the auction of SA Express assets has been finalised, according to Fly SAX spokesperson Thabisile Sikakane.
Once the shareholding deal is finalised, Fly SAX will then invite potential investors to invest in the new airline. This will be done through Uprise.Africa. The company is looking to raise R250 million in start-up capital through crowdfunding.
The purchase price for the airline is R50 million, which is payable in the form of a bank guarantee.
As ownership talks between the DPE and the SA Express provisional liquidators continue, the liquidators have applied to have the airline’s assets sold off in a massive auction on Wednesday (November 18).
Fly SAX does not require the movable assets of the airline, according to its bid proposal.
Proceeds from the sale will go towards the reduction of the purchase price and any shortfall will be recovered from the bank guarantee provided to the liquidators from Fly SAX.
The items up for grabs via auctioneer AllSurplus include nine stripped aircraft, 18 used engines and even a 2014 Ford Ranger. The liquidators are looking to raise R50 million. Should this not be reached by the end of the online auction, the assets will be returned to them.
At the time of writing, none of the items available for auction had met their reserve price but AllSurplus representative Albert De Menezes says this is not much to worry about because “buyers wait until the last day” to buy their preferred items.
Listen to Nompu Siziba’s interview with Uprise Africa CEO Tabassum Qadir (or read the transcript here):