An Optimum coal colliery. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
An Optimum coal colliery. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

The Pretoria high court has dismissed a bid by Swiss shell company Charles King to halt the sale of Optimum Coal mine.

The application to interdict the sale of Optimum was dismissed with costs by the court on Friday and represents the 44th unsuccessful legal bid to scupper the work of the business rescue practitioners who took over the running of the mine, and other Gupta-owned assets, in February 2018.

Business rescue is a provision of the Companies Act which aims to rehabilitate financially distressed companies.

The Gupta businesses were forced into rescue when banks refused to provide them with accounts and they became unable to transact.

Optimum Coal mine has been at the centre of state capture allegations after former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s "State of Capture" report detailed how, under the tenure of former president Jacob Zuma, Eskom officials forced the sale of Optimum by Glencore and then helped the politically connected Gupta family to buy it.

Charles King’s legal bid now joins the long list of unsuccessful ones against the practitioners, much of it from Gupta affiliates.

The company, registered in Switzerland and a subsidiary of an Abu Dhabi company, asked the court to urgently interdict the sale of the Optimum Coal mine, Optimum Terminal and Koornfontein Mines while a dispute between itself and the business rescue practitioners underwent arbitration.

Charles King said it had entered into a sale agreement with Tegeta Exploration and Resources to buy the three businesses in August 2017, but a dispute later arose with the rescue practitioners over the required deposit and whether it had been duly paid.

Due to currency fluctuations there had been a shortfall, but Tegeta’s then directors had verbally agreed to allow the balance to be settled upon transfer of the shareholdings, Charles King claimed.

In responding court papers one of the rescue practitioners, Kurt Knoop, said claims of a verbal agreement over the short payment were "bald and unsubstantiated". He argued that the matter was not urgent.

Judge Segopotje Sheila Mphahlele agreed on the question of urgency and struck the matter off the roll. "The applicant failed to take reasonable steps to protect its interests from the time it became clear that the respondents persisted with the cancellation of the contract and refused to give any undertaking," Mphahlele said in her judgment.