Industrial sabotage and data theft are very serious allegations that can irreparably harm reputations. It is therefore no surprise that the four ex-Tekkie Town executives and some of their businesses thus accused by Star/Pepkor are planning legal action after the Cape High Court exonerated them from these charges on Tuesday.
Especially since the case against them seem to rest on a prank call, the inexperience of a Star IT manager and a paid informant who likes to tell a good story.
This will be but one court case in a string of litigation that will keep lawyers representing the ex- Tekkie Towners (ex-TT) and their former Pep/Star employers occupied for a long time. Steinhoff Africa Retail (Star) is busy changing their name to Pepkor Holdings (Pep).
The latest court action is a claim by Braam van Huyssteen on Monday against Pep/Star CEO Leon Lourens for more than R41-m. This is the estimated loss in earnings and bonuses he will suffer over nearly three years, after Lourens suspended his 3-year contract as chairman of Star Property after three months. (See more)
A more dramatic case is the 19th July criminal charge of breaking and entering against Lourens, this week appointed to Star’s social and ethics committee, after a security guard claimed he was instructed to remove printed documents and personal items from former Star Speciality Fashion and Footwear CEO Bernard Mostert’s locked Nunanda Property Investment office. Among them were sensitive documents relating to their on-going litigation against Star/Pepkor, says Mostert.
Lourens is reported as saying that the charge is unfounded and he will take the necessary action to prove this.
But, back to the charges brought by Star/Pepkor on July 5 when they obtained an interim interdict against the ex-TT four and related businesses, prohibiting them from “interfering with IT systems and destabilising operations”. This interim interdict was granted ‘ex parte’ – meaning without informing the other party, usually done in cases of extreme urgency, where giving the other party notice might subject the applicant to irreparable harm.
Based on this one-sided representation, the public was led to believe that the Tekkie Town data and store operations are under threat from being harmed by rogues hell-bent on revenge (or something to that effect), unless Pep/Star take drastic steps to protect them.
In the weeks leading up to 31 July, when the ex-TT’s response became public, this perception was reinforced by media headlines alleging “sabotage” and “theft” and predictions of criminal charges – which shocked even colleagues who’ve known Van Huyssteen, Mostert and IT specialists Willem Wait and Anton Roetz for years. These news reports caught the respondents unawares, because they appeared in selected media before the interdict was properly served on them.
But, once the four gave their version in a lengthy affidavit, backed by numerous documents, the order was discharged (legalese for dismissed) by the judge. The main point of their answering affidavit is that “Pepkor misled the court by misrepresenting several material facts and did not make several material disclosures that would have impacted a decision in an ex-parte order,” says Mostert.
Both sides, however, claim victory. In a SENS release to shareholders Star says this was a positive outcome for them because all the respondents undertake not to use information proprietary to Tekkie Town and that they will destroy all emails sent from @star-speciality or @tekkietown email accounts by 15 August. That is, except emails that relate to their private business dealings, or are necessary for their litigation against Star. Wait and Roetz also undertake not to interfere with the Tekkie Town IT system.
“The interim interdict served as an immediate prevention of possible interference while the court order made on 31 July 2018 protects the business in the longer term,” claims Star. They will take the necessary legal action to protect their Star and Tekkie Town businesses, Lourens said.
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