Ann Crotty Writer-at-large
Listing lag: Sekunjalo Independent Media owns 55% of Independent Media, which publishes The Star. Picture: SUPPLIED
Listing lag: Sekunjalo Independent Media owns 55% of Independent Media, which publishes The Star. Picture: SUPPLIED

The controversial proposed listing of Sagarmatha Technologies on the JSE next Friday has become more fraught, with reports that a former chairman of the African News Agency (ANA), the Independent Media group wire service, has initiated legal action aimed at interdicting the listing.

West African businessman Ladislas Agbesi, who claims to own the majority of ANA, brought an urgent application last Thursday asking the High Court in Johannesburg to restrain or interdict Sagarmatha from listing on the index. But the judge declined to hear the matter urgently. Agbesi then told Business Day he was pursuing the action on a non-expedited basis. "They can go ahead with the listing, but [it] must not include ANA," he said.

The JSE was cited as a respondent. JSE head of listings Andre Visser told Business Day the JSE would abide by the high court decision.

On Friday, ANA released a story saying the proposed listing had been postponed to Friday April 13 2018 from April 11. The initial date in the prelisting statement was Friday April 6. ANA says the postponement is due to a request from potential investors to extend the closing date of the private placement.

The legal action by the controversial businessman appears to be part of a continuing battle with Iqbal Surve, controlling shareholder of Sekunjalo Independent Media, which owns 55% of Independent Media. It follows a recent City Press report of a $500m attempt by Agbesi and associates to acquire the collapsed VBS Mutual Bank.

I asked him [Surve] not to do a listing with assets that belong to me; he is the minority shareholder, I am the majority
Ladislas Agbesi
West African businessman

Though Agbesi was the founding chairman and claims to have brought the ANA idea and the strategy to Surve, he has not been included in plans for the listing of Sagarmatha. Agbesi is not mentioned anywhere in the 208-page prelisting statement despite the fact that Sagarmatha assets include 95% of ANA. "Now I’m claiming my ANA back, I’ll do everything I have to," he told Business Day.

The City Press report refers to Agbesi’s claims to be the "founder" of ANA and also quotes Surve stating that Agbesi is not a director or co-founder of the wire service. "I have respectfully asked him [Agbesi] on many occasions to refrain from making statements which are not correct about ANA," Surve told the newspaper.

On Saturday, Sagarmatha’s public relations company said the judge had dismissed the urgent application because it was "frivolous and without merit". In the notice of motion lodged with the High Court in Johannesburg Agbesi had also called for an order preventing Sekunjalo Investment "from publishing any defamatory articles or comments, alternatively anything which is not true, against the applicant".

The JSE was cited as fourth respondent in the notice of motion. ANA is the first, Sekunjalo Investments the second and Sagarmatha the third in an action Agbesi said was designed to prevent the listing of an asset that belonged to him.

"I asked him [Surve] not to do a listing with assets that belong to me; he is the minority shareholder, I am the majority," Agbesi told Business Day.

Agbesi was the founding chairman of ANA when it was launched in March 2015, shortly after the demise of the South African Press Association.

At the time Agbesi told reporters that news about Africa was growing in demand globally and ANA hoped to capitalise on that.

"We want to take our place among the leading voices in Africa in an increasingly interconnected globe," he said. In August 2013, when Sekunjalo Independent Media finalised the acquisition of the Independent Media group from INM Ireland (listed in Dublin and London), Agbesi flew to SA to witness the symbolic handover.

At the time, he said the African continent applauded the change of ownership.

crottya@bdfm.co.za

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