Dan Mantsha defends R10m payouts to sacked Denel executives

26 March 2021 - 18:11
By aphiwe deklerk AND Aphiwe Deklerk
Daniel Mantsha. File photo.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu Daniel Mantsha. File photo.

Former Denel board chair Dan Mantsha has denied that he pushed for the sacking of former CEO Riaz Saloojee because of his opposition to a controversial deal involving VR Laser Asia, which is linked to the Gupta family.

He also defended a payout of R10m to Saloojee and two other executives, saying this was to avoid long-winded legal action that could end up costing even more.

Mantsha, testifying at the state capture inquiry on Friday, said that Saloojee was suspended and later let go by Denel over a six-month bridge loan they took out with Nedbank despite having in place a guarantee of five years from the public enterprises ministry.

Former CFO Fikile Mhlontlo and company secretary Elizabeth Africa were also suspended and later left the company over the same matter, he said.

He told the commission that it was in fact Saloojee who brought VR Laser to Denel before his arrival as board chair.

“I liked this man [Saloojee]. I wanted to see this man continue to work with me because I think we strike a very good knot of working together,” said Mantsha.

He told the commission how, during a trip abroad, Saloojee had come to beg him, in his room, that he protect him from the impending charges over the loan matter.

“I even told you earlier today that even when he cried to me that night, I never slept that night because I really liked him and where necessary, I promised to support him. And this statement from me is informed by that strong relationship we tried to make together,” said Mantsha.

“I would have been the last person to want Mr Saloojee out of [Denel]. I tried all approaches but it was not possible given the fact of what he presided on before we came to office,” said Mantsha.

He said Saloojee had opted for bridging finance without approval.

“That meant me and my board will then be blamed ... because we could not meet our financial obligations. That was catastrophic. That of course changed my position towards him. It did not mean I hated him, it only means I looked at the matter objectively,” said Mantsha.

He was, however, at pains to explain how his board, despite it saying there was strong evidence against the three, approved a settlement amounting to R10m for the executives after they have been placed on suspension.

“We were under tremendous pressure to stabilise the company and so that our business partners can have confidence in us,” said Mantsha.

He further told the commission that there may have been a possible long-winded legal battle with the three, which may have cost more.

Deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo questioned why there would be more costs to the company when it believed it had a strong case against the former executives.

He told Mantsha that Saloojee and the executives were eager to go to a disciplinary hearing before Denel decided to settle with them.

But Mantsha stuck to his guns, saying they had a strong case and the confidence the three had was similar to accused people who show signs of being eager to go to court but are later found guilty.