Wednesday, October 27, 2021

BDC, Botalana Ventures caught up in conflict of interests

Botswana Development Cooperation (BDC) has been caught up in a conflict of interest after it engaged an attorney that had represented Botalana Ventures (Pty) Ltd when the former applied for the liquidation of the latter.

Botalana later lodged a complaint with the Law Society of Botswana over professional misconduct by attorney Hermanus Christofell Du Plessis.

In an affidavit filed before the Law Society of Botswana, the Managing Director of Botalana Ventures Jan Willemse accused Du Plessis of conniving with BDC to place the company under liquidation after engaging him in a multi-million Pula legal service project in Kasane.

According to Willemse, Du Plessis became compromised and failed to defend the Botalana Ventures from liquidation as evidenced by his withdrawal from the case.

He said an application for judicial management was submitted to the High Court on September 28, 2015 by Du Plessis on behalf of Botalana Ventures but a day later BDC filed a petition to have the company placed under provisional liquidation and subsequently final liquidation.

Willemse said Du Plessis did not oppose the liquidation because BDC had promised him a lucrative deal.

He said seven months passed still enquiring about application to place the company under judicial management but to no avail as Du Plessis was not willing to assist them anymore even though he was paid P20 000 for the job.

He said Du Plessis did not bother to respond to his 32 emails, numerous phone calls and text messages communicated to him.

“After I realised that, Chris Du Plessis had failed to oppose the liquidation process I phoned him on October 22, 2015 with a view to discuss the petition for liquidation of Botalana Ventures but he informed me that he no longer wished to serve as attorney for Botalana Ventures as he was engaged in BDC legal matters pertaining to a finance deal in Kasane valued around P200 million stating that as a result of the conflict of interest he had no option but to resign as Botalana Ventures lawyer,” said Willemse.

Willemse claims that BDC threatened Du Plessis to choose between Botalana Ventures and Kasane deal.

“He informed me that he had talked to BDC about the Judicial Management application on Botalana matter but they asked him to choose between being appointed to BDC Kasane business deal and acting as Botalana Ventures lawyer pushing him to decide to resign as Botalana Ventures lawyer,” said Willemse.

In a response to this publication’s queries, BDC, Head-Marketing Communications Boitshwarelo Lebang, denied any knowledge of Du Plessis saying “the man in question is not even sitting on a panel of attorneys engaged by BDC.”

“Mr Du Plessis has never provided legal services to BDC. He is not a member of the BDC Panel of Attorneys and, therefore, there is no conflict of interest,” said Lebang.
The Law Society of Botswana Executive Secretary Tebogo Moipolai could not reveal much about Du Plessis save to say they had received a complainant letter from Botalana Ventures relating to him.

“The Law Society does not discuss complaints lodged with it with third parties. We are therefore unable to answer any questions relating to Botalana Ventures,” said Moipolai.

To establish if BDC had engaged a lawyer without practicing certificate, in 2016, the society confirms this.

“Mr. Chris du Plessis held a Practicing Certificate up to 2015. He did not hold a Practicing Certificate in 2016 and does not hold one for 2017. Attorney Du Plessis was therefore not entitled to practice during 2016 as he did not hold a practicing certificate. A public notice to this effect was made. His law firm was placed under Curatorship in 2016 on account of his failure to procure a practicing certificate,” said Moipolai

The law Society further states that Du Plessis is also not entitled to practice in 2017, adding that a public notice to this effect was made.

This paper is in a possession of documents with email attached correspondent from Du Plessis to some BDC staff amongst them Oteng Molomo, Pauline Gagoitseope and Karabo Masuku, who was then working at Du Plessis’ law firm and had handled files relating to conflict of interest between Botalana Ventures and Botswana Development cooperation.

Asked to respond to allegations levelled against him, Du Plessis confirmed that he was engaged by a group of people who were looking for funding from BDC to do Tourism-Hotel projects worth more than P200 million.

“Right now I have nothing to do with Botalana Ventures because the project in Kasane is a totally different matter. After I realised that the same person I was dealing with over Botalana Ventures and BDC matter, by the name Pauline Gagoitseope is the same person who was assisting in the Kasane tourism Project I decided to withdraw from Botalana Ventures and focused on the Kasane Project,” he said.

Quizzed on his practicing certificate, he said: “It’s true I don’t have a practicing certificate because I have not renewed it the reasons being that I am retiring from practicing as a lawyer. I have been a lawyer for 38 years so I’m now retiring because I want to venture into tourism,” said Du Plessis  

He denied dumping Botalana Ventures saying even before withdrawing from representing them he had advised them to opt for voluntary liquidation.

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