NGHC dismisses bulk of Nova, Frontier and Centro’s interlocutory application.
A swift judgment in the North Gauteng High Court (NGHC) has paved the way for Moneyweb’s application to inspect the shareholder registers of several companies related to the restructured Sharemax investment scheme.
Judge Neil Tuchten dismissed the most contentious request from the Nova Property Group, Frontier Asset Management and Investments and Centro Property Group to force Moneyweb journalist Julius Cobbett to hand over all his correspondence with third parties during his extended Sharemax investigations.
This includes all correspondence with Sharemax investors, forensic auditors, complainants to the FAIS Ombud and the Financial Service Board.
This interlocutory application follows Moneyweb’s application in July last year to access the shareholder registers of Nova, Frontier and Centro in terms of Section 26 of the Companies Act. This section allows for any individual to access the shareholder register of a company.
Moneyweb believes there is huge public interest in seeing these registers, as Nova is the company that now owns all the various properties that used to belong to Sharemax investors. Frontier and Centro are involved with the management and administration of these properties.
When Nova was formed through the scheme of arrangement, the executive directors Dominique Haese, Rudi Badenhorst and Dirk Koekemoer held 43.2% of Nova's issued shares. Moneyweb hopes to see whether this shareholding has changed and who owns the balance of the issued shares.
The directors of these companies have bluntly refused Cobbett request for access to the registers. They allege that Moneyweb and Cobbett are engaged in a sustained vendetta against them and that Cobbett will use the information contained in the shareholder registers to further defame and vilify individual directors.
Moneyweb has consistently denied that such a vendetta exists and approached the GNHC in August to force the companies to provide Moneyweb with access to their shareholder registers.
Nova, Frontier and Centro strongly contested this application by Moneyweb. The companies then brought the interlocutory application to force Cobbett to hand over copies of what may include highly sensitive information, citing a court rule designed for discovery in trial actions. This rule requires parties to trial actions to make full discovery of all relevant documents. But Moneyweb’s application is not a trial action.
The documents demanded by Nova and its associates include all Cobbett’s correspondence with virtually every single individual he has ever consulted in his investigations relating to Sharemax, Nova, Frontier and Centro and their directors.
Moneyweb argued that these broadly described and unspecified documents were totally irrelevant to the Section 26 application, and that the interlocutory application was brought as a ploy to delay the main application, which is to get access to the shareholder registers.
On Friday Judge Tuchten found that although a “compelling case for discovery” has been made, a request for such a vast amount of documents is inappropriate under the circumstances. He suggested that the dispute may be best resolved through oral evidence, rather than on affidavit only. Moneyweb did not agree to this suggestion. Judge Tuchten then dismissed Nova’s claim for these documents.
Moneyweb ordered to provide physical documents
Moneyweb did provide web addresses to other, public documents, requested by in Nova, Frontier and Centro in terms of Rule 35, as they were all available on the internet.
But Judge Tuchten ruled that this was insufficient and ordered Moneyweb to provide physical printed copies of these public documents to the three companies. Moneyweb will immediately comply with this ruling.
This judgment now paves the way for the main case to be heard in the GNHC. The initial Section 26 application was made more than a year ago, and should in theory only be a simple administrative process to access the shareholder registers.
Hopefully, the main application can be dealt with in the same swift manner as this interlocutory application.