HARARE – British tycoon, Nicholas van Hoogstraten broke his silence over controversies surrounding his Zimbabwean outfit, CFI Holdings Limited, telling ENN in an exclusive interview Tuesday that he had accomplished his goals in the diversified agro-industrial firm two years ago, when an aggressive accumulation of shares defused protracted resistance by rebel rivals who had positioned for total control.
During a stormy annual general meeting (AGM) in Harare, Hamish Rudland, key shareholder in Zimre Holdings Limited, which together with the National Social Security Authority owned Stalap Investments at the time of the rebellion, quietly left the CFI boardroom after it became clear that his new plan to frustrate the tycoon would be futile.
Stalap Investments, battled but failed to shoot down three agenda items that were under discussion at the AGM saying an off the market sale of NICOZ diamond shares in CFI to van Hoogstraten’s son, Lewis Hamilton, had violated rules because the firm’s stock had been suspended from the open market.
Stalap proxies pressed CFI chairperson, Valerie Pasi to explain why the firm’s issued shares had increased during a time when the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange (ZSE) had not lifted the suspension which came into force in 2017.
After Pasi explained how the transaction had been carried out, the rivals hit at her again, querying why she had switched voting to a secret ballot, after initially asking them to vote by a show of hands.
The parties had to go for a secret ballot to determine if the re-election of directors and their remuneration would be granted.
The secret ballot would also determine the reappointment of Baker Tilly as external auditors for CFI.
Van Hoogstraten’s investment vehicle, Messina, which fortified its stronghold in CFI during the stormy 2017 days when it spent over $2 million to safeguard the tycoon’s interests, won the votes by an average 54,44 percent against 45,55 percent.
Messina now controls about 54 percent shareholding in CFI, van Hoogstraten told ENN.
He says CFI is close to his heart.
The combative tycoon told ENN; “You don’t have to be listed to sell shares, this was an off market sell. There are no rules that says you have to be listed to sale your shares”.
Ahead of a November 2017 landmark extraordinary general meeting that would ultimately decide who would take control of CFI, Messina went on a shopping spree, buying from minorities to give the tycoon the muscle to push out rival directors.
They were immediately replaced by loyalists.
Stalap and Messina had been jostling to assume control in the agro-industrial concern, whose stock rose sharply during the battles as the two made offers and counter offers to outsmart each other.
Despite charges by both the ZSE and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Zimbabwe that Messina had violated market rules with its ‘unorthodox’ counter-offer to CFI minorities, the British businessman insisted his outfit had done nothing wrong.
After Tuesday’s stormy AGM, van Hoogstraten, who has fought similar battles at listed hospitality firm Rainbow Tourism Group (RTG) and troubled coal producer, Hwange Colliery Company Limited, said he had accomplished his goals at CFI.
He said the ship was now steady and cruising, after the expulsion of several former directors he accused of mismanagement and corruption in 2017.
“We accomplished our goals two years ago,” he told ENN.
“There is no more corruption at CFI, there is no more mismanagement at CFI. This is what we wanted to do at RTG and Hwange if we had been allowed to do so,” he told ENN.
But this was after he had hit at ENN for asking ‘stupid questions’.
Earlier on, Pasi, the CFI chairperson, had stood her ground amid an avalanche of questions from shareholders and proxies who looked at possible loopholes to nail her down.
She said while she had understood some of their concerns, she had the power to make decide whether to conduct a vote by polling or by a show of hands.
In a trading update, acting chief executive officer, Shingi Chibhanguza told shareholders that CFI had been recovering from the “corruption” of the past, and was on steady to be a stable and viable firm in the coming period.
It invested $1,2 million in distribution vehicles and managers’ cars to beef up its marketing efforts, said by Chibhanguza to have suffered a brief setback during panic buying at the beginning of this year.
“Our performance to date is in line with budget and the group continues to recover from the many years of corruption and mismanagement,” he said.
“Expenses during the five months to end February 2019 increased by 26 percent compared to prior period as the group tried to cushion employees through cost of living adjustments. The group invested $1,2 million in distribution trucks and branch managers’ vehicles to assist enhancing marketing and operational efficiencies. Given the reduced gearing, improved profitability and cash generation by the business, the group is now in an exciting growth trajectory and the new management and board discussed on consolidating the recovery of the group for the benefit of all stakeholders,” said Chibhanguza.
CFI is one of Zimbabwe’s key firms, with interests spanning from milling through Victoria Foods and Agrifoods, checking breeding through Crest Breeders and Hubbard Zimbabwe.
The firm owns largest swaths of prime land in Harare which has been utilised develop residential stands.