Mashudu Netsianda, Senior Court Reporter
FORMER Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko’s son, Siqokoqela, has been arrested for allegedly hijacking the Choppies retail business and “looting” more than $50 000 worth of cash and goods from the outlets countrywide.
Mphoko (40), who is a director of Nanavac Investments (Private) Limited, a local partner for the Botswana-registered Choppies Distribution Centre (Proprietary) Limited, appeared before Bulawayo magistrate Ms Sithembiso Ncube yesterday facing 170 counts of fraud and theft.
He was remanded out of custody to September 14 on $200 bail. As part of the bail conditions, Mphoko was ordered not to interfere with State witnesses.
Mphoko, who is a shareholder in the retail business and a non-executive director, is accused of abusing his power to “loot” cash realised from sales at different supermarkets and replacing it with transfers.
Prosecuting, Mr Nkathazo Dlodlo said between July last year and June this year, Mphoko proceeded to various Choppies supermarkets where he allegedly demanded varying amounts of cash, goods and services for various purposes from the employees without approval from the board.
“The accused person deceived the employees into believing that he was the one at the helm of Choppies Zimbabwe and had authority to demand or collect anything he wanted from the business. He also told the employees that he had the authority to collect goods on a credit facility, which was a misrepresentation,” said Mr Dlodlo.
The court heard that on different occasions, Mphoko collected cash, groceries and an assortment of building materials and ordered personnel from the finance department to deduct the money from his salary.
“The accused person would then confront personnel from the finance department and order them not to deduct any amount from his salary.
“There were occasions when he also misrepresented that he intended to replace the money through swiping from Point of Sale (POS) machines,” said Mr Dlodlo.
According to court papers, Mphoko by virtue of being a non-executive director, was entitled to a monthly gross salary of $10 000, company vehicle, fuel, telephone allowance and 3,53 percent of profit after tax as dividend at the end of each year.
Although he was not supposed to be directly involved in the day to day operations of the company, Mphoko allegedly masqueraded as the owner of the company in Zimbabwe and even threatened to either dismiss or deport employees of Indian origin for defying his orders.
The matter came to light in May 2018 when the Botswana-based Choppies group chief executive officer, Mr Ottapathu Ramachandran, discovered that there were a series of financial imbalances while going through the company management accounting books.
It was discovered that the company was prejudiced of $51 945,53.
The matter was reported to the police and investigations were conducted leading to Mphoko’s arrest and nothing was recovered.
About two weeks ago, Mphoko’s wife, Nomagugu, also appeared in court for allegedly bulldozing various Choppies outlets in Bulawayo and demanding cash.
She allegedly ordered 15 Choppies Supermarket managers in Bulawayo to unlawfully dispense more than $30 000 cash from their POS machines after threatening them with either deportation or dismissal.
She is facing 49 counts of extortion and was remanded out of custody to September 3 on $200 bail.
The Mphokos are being represented by Professor Welshman Ncube of Mathonsi Law Chambers. — @mashnets