Luxury yacht goes missing in Cape Town
Costly catamaran on which MEC's firm owes millions is whisked away before it can be seized
Butana Komphela is known for his outspoken views on spending, sport and combating crime.
But he's quieter than a windless day about his private business dealings - particularly the fate of a luxury yacht that "went missing" this week from Cape Town harbour.
The firebrand Free State MEC for police, roads and transport is embroiled in a debt scandal involving Mmamolanewane Accommodation Holdings, which owes millions on the catamaran.
Komphela, who until June was an MP and the chairman of parliament's portfolio committee on sport, is a director and shareholder of Mmamolanewane. The firm landed a lucrative contract in 2008 to provide a backup ferry service to Robben Island, but the deal was scrapped after Mmamolanewane failed to produce a boat.
The Sunday Times has established that Mmamolanewane owes millions on the catamaran, Tropico, which has been sitting for two years in the Elliot Basin in Cape Town harbour.
The vessel, now in a state of disrepair, was removed from the harbour in the dead of night this week, avoiding being attached over unpaid berthing fees.
This week it emerged that:
- Mmamolanewane owes R5-million to a Pretoria company, which is taking legal action to recover the money;
- Mmamolanewane is in partnership with Bloemfontein property tycoon Michael Georgiou via his company, Isocorp Investments, which is owed an undisclosed amount for the yacht;
- The yacht has run up a bill of R500000 for berthing fees in the Elliot Basin, where it was being refurbished and repaired in preparation for ferry duty; and
- It was about to be impounded by the leaseholder of the Elliot Basin when it mysteriously vanished in the early hours of Wednesday.
Komphela could not be reached this week via his cellphone or his spokesman, Saki Mohono. E-mail queries went unanswered.
Documents seen by the Sunday Times suggest that while Komphela was chairman of parliament's portfolio committee on sport and recreation, he tried to persuade Absa Bank to grant Mmamolanewane a loan for the purchase of a new Robben Island ferry in 2009.
In a letter to the bank, he complained about its refusal of a loan request.
"The poor handling of this matter, resulting in unnecessary delays, direct loss of income and the possible risk of being considered in breach of contract by Robben Island Museum, is of grave concern to us," the letter reads.
Absa said this week it had declined the finance "due to non-conformance with Absa's credit criteria".
Mmamolanewane's contract with the Robben Island Museum expired on June 30. Robben Island Museum chief executive officer Sibongiseni Mkhize said the company "was contracted to provide a backup boat - not ferries to the island - as the museum has its own three ferries, which perform the function of taking visitors to and from the island. The contract expired before Mmamolanewane could deliver the backup ferry and other development proposals."
Mmamolanewane director Johan van Heerden insisted the firm's plans were still on track. "The Tropico is being totally refurbished and refitted, final specifications and use still to be confirmed, a process that, unbeknown to us, has been far more time-consuming and costly than originally envisaged."
He said the yacht had been moved to a new site, where repair work would continue. Regarding the outstanding payments, he said the boat was being paid off in terms of a "bareboat charter agreement" - similar to a lease-to-own deal - with Georgiou.
Van Heerden said of Komphela's involvement: "While Komphela is part of Mmamolanewane, all day-to-day affairs and management thereof rest with me and company management."
Anton Pieterse, the owner of Pretoria-based Finspire Capital, confirmed the firm had loaned Mmamolanewane more than R5-million to buy a boat for the ferry service. He said he was taking legal action to recoup the debt.
Veda Raubenheimer, CEO of the Cape Town Boatbuilding & Technology Initiative, which leases the Elliot Basin, said the vessel had been moved when she "threatened to have the boat chopped up and scrapped to get it out of the facility".
By late this week, it had been found at a nearby facility. Raubenheimer said: "We will start the next phase of the legal process to recoup what is due, over R500000. We will attach it if necessary."
Georgiou said he was trying to resolve the impasse. He said Mmamolanewane had yet to take formal ownership of the boat, due to outstanding payments.