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Member of Parliament for Tati East Samson Moyo Guma has entered the boardroom brawl pitting Choppies Enterprise Limited Chairman former President Festus Mogae and chief executive officer Ramachandaran Ottapathu against former Zimbabwe Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko and his family.
As the battle for the ownership and control of supermarket chain Choppies Zimbabwe intensified this week, Sunday Standard investigations intercepted a Whatsapp conversation between Guma and Mphoko’s son Siqokoqela Mphoko suggesting that Guma has been rejected by the Mphoko family as a mediator in the dispute.
Guma who was reportedly due in Zimbabwe this week explained to Siqokoqela that “Sir Guma is my name. I don’t agree with what you guys are doing. You can resolve your issue around the table. These court cases are not necessary. That is what I wanted to talk to you about.”
He added that “As a brother, I had known for years and the respect I have for your father. Without taking sides.”
Replying, Siqokoqela stated that “I have a lot of respect for you and I told that to my father as a person I have known for so long and a person who has always been an older brother to me.”
He added that “let Ram bring the entire board share holders… If not then let’s go madoda and see who is the last man standing…Ram thinks I am afraid of court.”
In another Whatsapp conversation, Siqokoqela stated that “My brother how is Harare I hope you are enjoying yourself,” to which Guma replied “I am in Botswana Sir. I don’t want these fights.”
The conversation between Guma and Siqokoqela came after Ottapathu (known in business circles as Ram) dragged the young Mphoko before a Bulawayo Magistrate Court on Friday accusing him of fraud. In an interview, Siqokoqela said “Ram took me to court because he says I told the staff that I am entitled to certain benefits that I am not.”
“Ram claims that he has the resolution. He claims Mogae gave him the permission as chairman to take me to court. They said that as majority shareholder, I’m bullying them. They are no longer disputing that we are the majority shareholders,” adding that “Guma said he is coming as a person who knows me and my father.”
He said “ I would have expected the board of Choppies led by Mogae out of respect for my family as shareholders of Choppies Zimbabwe in order to save a partnership and business we own together not Guma to come here. He is not a shareholder and neither is he an interested party in this thing. I didn’t expect him to come here, to talk about what?”
He said Guma attempted to talk to his father but Phelekezele Mphoko turned him down.
“My father refused. Guma came to my house in Bulawayo and he told him am not interested. Ram says I’m not the Executive Director of Nanavac Investments and he is the group CEO of Choppies Enterprises so he is the CEO of Nanavac,” he said. He added that “they said I’m the major shareholder of the company. I have total control of the company but I have no role and I’m not the Executive Director…”
He said Ottapathu was doing this “in the full knowledge of Mogae and he has done this in the full knowledge of the entire board at Choppies.” He said the board does not want to set foot in Zimbabwe because there are serious questions that the Mphoko family want to be addressed relating to suspicious money laundering activities.
“That is I why they are taking us to court. So if they come here as a board I will institute a full audit in to the happenings of the company; on where the money is going. The audit will reveal everything.”
He added that “We are saying let the board come here so that we can institute a serious forensic audit; we want you to answer certain questions. What have you been doing in the Nanavac Investments because we are the ones who employed you on our behalf and not to hijack the company.”
He stated that “So Guma comes here, and when he comes here who is he representing, what is his mandate. Who said we want to talk to him; we don’t want to talk to him.”
Ram confirmed the supermarket chain was currently embroiled in a bitter dispute with one of its partners in Zimbabwe.
He dismissed as untrue reports that Choppies dispatched Guma to Zimbabwe to serve as mediator between the parties. “That is not true. Choppies did not send anyone to negotiate on its behalf,” he said. He would not be drawn into details saying since the matter was before court.
For his part, Guma confirmed that he attempted to reconcile the warring factions but to no avail. “I am aware of the cases involving both parties before the courts. Because both parties are my friends I found it fit to mediate in an effort to resolve their differences,” he said. Guma said he was instrumental in helping Choppies acquire a trading license and penetrate the Zimbabwean market.