Choppies Botswana tightens rope on its Zim director

Dikarabo Ramadubu BG reporter
Monday, 22 October 2018
Choppies CEO, Ottapathi Ramachandran Choppies CEO, Ottapathi Ramachandran

Former President Festus Mogae who is the Choppies chairman was recently forced to cut short his planned official trip abroad in order to come home and attend board meetings to resolve the financial losses the company suffered in Zimbabwe due to fraud by one of its directors.
Although it is public knowledge that Choppies Zimbabwe lost its money through fraud by one of their own, both Mogae and the group CEO for Choppies Distribution Centre Private Limited and Choppies Enterprises, Ottapathi Ramachandran have adopted a stance not to talk to the media but instead allow the court to decide.
Choppies allegedly incurred financial losses when one of its Zimbabwean directors and son to former Zimbabwe Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko, Siqokoqela, looted an excess of USD51,000 (about P5.1m) worth of cash and goods from the outlets countrywide. Siqokoqela is facing 170 counts of fraud or theft.
Mphoko is a director of Nanavac Investments Private Limited, a local partner to the Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) Limited.  However, he is a shareholder in the retail business and a non-executive director. Choppies Enterprises Limited manages, controls, operates, and owns 93 percent of economic interest in Nanavac Investments Pty Ltd. This business is a separate entity from the listed Botswana entity Choppies Enterprises Limited.
 Reliable reports coming from Zimbabwe indicate that Mphoko’s wife, Nomagugu, is also facing fraud charges for allegedly entering different Choppies outlets in Bulawayo and demanding cash. It is said she ordered 15 Choppies Supermarket managers in Bulawayo to unlawfully give her more than USD30 000 cash from their POS machines after threatening them with either deportation or dismissal. Nomagugu is facing 49 counts of extortion.

Trial dates
Siqokoqela appeared in court on Wednesday but the new trial dates had to be set at the request of his legal representatives who told the court that they need time to prepare. However, time has run out for his wife Nomagugu who has to face the court today (Friday).
Speaking to Botswana Guardian on behalf of Mogae, Private Secretary Rhee Hetanang said the former president prefers not to comment at least for now.

He says “the matter is sub-judice and therefore he is constrained to address either the media and, or any third parties on the subject matter”.The group CEO for Choppies Distribution Centre Private Limited and Choppies Enterprises, Ottapathi Ramachandran also declined to comment saying, “I do know much about the case, I am not allowed to talk to the media” before he referred this publication to the Choppies attorneys.

 Speaking to Botswana Guardian in a telephone interview on Wednesday, Choppies Attorney Munyaradzi Nzarayapenga of Dube, Banda, Nzayapenga and Partners confirmed the particulars of the case. He said it is true that Siqokoqela Mphoko is facing charges.
“He appeared today in court but the trial date had to be postponed and has been set to commence from 26 to 30 November 2018.

The matter was postponed following the request by his lawyers who told the court that they were not ready to start their defence and applied for a later date”.Subsequent to their application both the applicants and defence attorneys agreed to block their entire week in order to accommodate the trial date.Nzarayapenga further confirmed that the trial of Mphoko’s wife will start today (Friday) 19 October 2018.

The case
Zimbabwean Newspapers recently went aboard with the story after Mphoko and his wife were arrested and charged for fraud at different dates. The Bulawayo based Chronicle wrote that Prosecutor Nkathazo Dlodlo told  the court that  between July last year and June this year, Mphoko proceeded to various Choppies supermarkets where he allegedly demanded varying amounts of cash, goods and services for various purposes from the employees without approval from the board.

“The accused person deceived the employees into believing that he was the one at the helm of Choppies Zimbabwe and had authority to demand or collect anything he wanted from the business. He also told the employees that he had the authority to collect goods on a credit facility, which was a misrepresentation,” said Dlodlo.

The court heard that on different occasions, Mphoko collected cash, groceries and an assortment of building materials and ordered personnel from the finance department to deduct the money from his salary.“The accused person would then confront personnel from the finance department and order them not to deduct any amount from his salary.

There were occasions when he also misrepresented that he intended to replace the money through swiping from Point of Sale (POS) machines,” said Dlodlo.The Chronicle further states that court papers show that, Mphoko by virtue of being a non-executive director, was entitled to a monthly gross salary of $10 000, company vehicle, fuel, telephone allowance and 3,53 percent of profit after tax as dividend at the end of each year.

Although he was not supposed to be directly involved in the day to day operations of the company, Mphoko allegedly masqueraded as the owner of the company in Zimbabwe and even threatened to either dismiss or deport employees of Indian origin for defying his orders.

The matter came to light in May 2018 when the Botswana-based Choppies group chief executive officer, Ottapathi Ramachandran, discovered that there were a series of financial imbalances while going through the company management accounting books.It was discovered that the company was prejudiced of $51 945, 53. The matter was reported to the police and investigations were conducted leading to Mphoko’s arrest and nothing was recovered.

Statement
Recently Choppies issued a statement saying that Mphoko routinely approached various ‘Choppies’ supermarkets in Zimbabwe to demand and take cash from the cash Till points. He misrepresented to Choppies employees that, as a director, he is entitled to take money from the company via the tills.

When Choppies management became aware of this conduct, Mphoko was informed that he must desist from his actions. He was made aware that his actions do not constitute good practice and, in any event, conflict with Choppies internal policies.Despite being this, Mphoko persisted with his conduct. He was further warned that, should he continue, the matter would be reported to the police.

As his unacceptable conduct continued, charges were brought against Mphoko. This resulted in his arrest and arraignment before a Zimbabwean magistrate on 170 counts of fraud and theft. Mphoko has since been remanded out of custody on bail.

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