Gupta-linked Optimum mine curator on strike for nonpayment by the NPA

The court appointed curator to sell Guptas-linked Optimum Coal Mine in Mpumalanga has downed tools after the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) failed to pay him.

This was revealed by the National Union of Mineworkers in a letter written to NPA head Shamila Batohi on Thursday.

The NUM said John Myburgh was on strike because the NPA, which recommended his appointment, only paid one of the five invoices he submitted to it for payment.

In a letter to Batohi, NUM provincial secretary in KwaZulu-Natal, Richard Mguzulu, said the prosecuting authority’s “underhanded tactics” placed more than 2 000 workers’ jobs on the line because the curator’s ‘strike’ would further delay the sale of the mine to potential investors.

“This is an unfair and unethical practice that undermines the independence of the curator and his ability to carry out his duties,” Mguzulu said.

He claimed that recently, neither the business rescue practitioners nor the employees could work with Myburgh as per the NPA’s asset preservation court order. He said the NUM’s scheduled meeting with Myburgh tomorrow was cancelled because he could not work for free.

Mguzulu said they learnt about Myburgh’s non-payment after he sent them a message, saying he was unable to attend as he had not been paid by the NPA.

“I appreciate the urgency and importance of this matter from the point of view of you and your members. But unfortunately, the meeting cannot go ahead on Monday, as my fees and disbursements have not been paid,” read his message.

Mguzulu said he heard the NPA’s Asset and Forfeiture Unit only paid one of Myburgh’s five invoices. “Having checked with Optimum’s business rescue practitioners, it is understood they also have received similar communications from the curator or his advisors.”

He said Myburgh and his advisers were therefore unable to allocate any further time or resources to his appointed role.

“This is deeply concerning that the curator is unable to perform his role and duties in accordance with the preservation order.”

Mguzulu said this was simply because the NPA had chosen, deliberately or otherwise, to delay payment for services rendered.

“Respectfully, the curator’s roles and responsibilities cannot be stopped and started as and when the NPA deems it necessary to make payment.”

He said the retrenchments at the mine had already resulted in hundreds of job losses, and further jobs were on the line.

“We cannot be expected to communicate to our members that engagements between the curator and NUM, and the business rescue practitioners and the curator have simply stopped.

“This seems to be a further underhand tactic adopted by the NPA to interfere with operations at Optimum Coal Mine by controlling when the curator and his advisers are funded to perform their duties”.

Essentially, he said, the NPA turned the tap on and off to control whether the curator was paid or not.

Mguzulu demanded confirmation of when the curator would receive his outstanding fees to perform his duties.

The union also requested a further urgent meeting to vent its frustration and discuss the way forward.

He also said the union’s intervention sought to assist the poor workers who were unable to provide for their families since the 2018 business rescue started.

In March last year, Batohi obtained a preservation order in the Pretoria high court against Optimum Coal Mine.

This after the court declared unlawful the “financing” transaction which resulted in the Gupta-owned company, Tegeta Resources, buying the mine for R2.1-billion.

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