Property Flash


27 October 2022

Embattled sugar producer Tongaat Hulett is falling apart and entering business rescue after it failed to get its lenders to agree to a restructuring plan.

The group needs R1.5bn and is trying to service R6.3bn of SA debt. It said on Thursday that lenders, after advancing R600m, now want these monies repaid.

“The South African lender group has informed the company that in all of the circumstances of the restructuring plan, they are unable to support the restructuring plan, or provide the additional funding required,” Tongaat said.

Tongaat owns huge parcels of land in KwaZulu-Natal, upon which it was supposed to develop various kinds of properties. Tongaat’s board had approved a plan in October that included disposing of its non-SA operations, securing investment for its SA business, introducing a five-year debt instrument that would be repaid through land disposals, as well as continuing to recoup money related to its accounting scandal.

The board has now appointed Gerhard Albertyn, Trevor Murgatroyd and Peter van den Steen of Metis Strategic Advisors as its business rescue practitioners.

Tongaat is battling to recover from the aforementioned accounting scandal and to decrease its R7.6bn net debt pile. It has also seen investment leave KwaZulu-Natal due to the riots last year and to poor service delivery. Cane fields were burned and there was heavy flooding.

CEO Gavin Hudson was appointed in 2019 to drive a recovery for the group. The over 150-year-old sugar producer then asked the JSE to temporarily suspend trade in its shares in June 2019. An investigation had flagged accounting practices that meant previous financial results could not be relied on.

PwC identified 10 executives, including former CEO Peter Staude, who were allegedly involved in fraud at the company.

The alleged fraudulent acts at Tongaat Hulett by the former executives ruined a company which seemed to have years of history and integrity. Tongaat was founded 147 years ago and developed into one of South Africa’s largest farming companies. The company amassed huge land parcels over time and formed a development arm. It’s shocking and disappointing that just a few years ago, former managing director of Tongaat Hulett Developments, Michael Deighton was talking to media at the South African Property Owners’ Association (Sapoa)’s annual conference held in Durban, about his company’s pipeline. Now he and the other former executives are facing charges including acting with common purpose to commit fraud.

Other accused include former CFO Murray Munro, former Tongaat Hulett Developments planning director Rory Wilkinson, and directors Samantha Shukla and Kamlasagrie Singh. Gavin Kruger, once a lead partner at Deloitte, was charged with contravening the Auditing Professions Act.

According to the charge sheet, the accused acted with the common purpose to commit fraud, relating to a scam worth about R3.5bn which involved 69 property deals, between 2015 and 2018.

The PwC investigation forced the company to restate previous financial results, including for the six months to end-September 2018. That restatement resulted in total assets decreasing by about R12bn, or just over a third.

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