MASERU — A Chinese businessman and a local lawyer are embroiled in a bitter fight over the ownership of a textile factory that employs nearly 700 people, a Sunday Express investigation has revealed.
The battle is over C-River, a textile factory based in Thetsane whose Chinese owners disappeared in September 2007 after the company racked up huge debts.
The High Court appointed lawyer Nketsi Makhera to be the liquidator of the factory so that he could pay the creditors who included 700 workers and suppliers of utilities like water and power.
Yet almost two years into the job Makhera is yet to pay a single creditor.
Instead he finds himself frantically battling for the control of the company whose assets he was hired to liquidate to pay off debts that run into hundreds of thousands of maloti.
His nemesis is Xie Enming, the director of a company that Makhera claims to have allowed to run the factory temporarily while he looked for suitable investors.
Makhera claims Enming’s company Xie Shi Brothers Enterprises, which operates the factory as Blessing Textile Factory, paid him M500 000 as surety that it would employ C-River’s workers.
He says the money was also meant to act as security that Enming would not disappear like the previous owner, Weng Chun-Hsuan, had done.
It is however this M500 000 that is at the centre of the dispute that is now threatening hundreds of jobs and could possibly lead to criminal proceedings.
Enming claims that Makhera sold him the company for M500 000 and therefore no longer has a say in the company.
To prove his version, Enming is waving an agreement of sale which he says Makhera signed when he sold him the company.
This provides a new twist to the saga because when Makhera was mobbed a fortnight ago by C-River workers who were demanding their severance packages, his defence was that he had only received the money as security.
Enming is however singing a different tune altogether, claiming that he believes “Makhera is a dishonest man who wants to steal my company”.
This paper is in possession of a six-page document which he claims is the agreement of sale.
The document — signed by Enming and Makhera as well as four witnesses — shows that the agreement was made on March 10 2008.
“The property is bought on as is basis and exclude any debts of the seller,” the document says.
According to the agreement, the total selling price was M650 000.
The first payment was supposed to be a M400 000 cheque that was to be paid on the day of the signing of the agreement.
The second was supposed to be paid through a M100 000 cheque three days later (March 13).
The remaining M150 000 was supposed to be paid on May 30 2008.
Enming claims that he paid M500 000 of that amount and has full title to the company.
He produces two cheques dated March 10 and March 18 to prove that he paid.
Enming says Makhera was supposed to assist him to get a five-year sub-lease agreement with the LNDC on March 14 2008 but he did not.
He says to his surprise instead of assisting him Makhera allegedly claimed to be a partner in Xie Shi Brothers Enterprises.
“I could not let him to be part of Xie Brothers and I wanted him to fulfil his promises that he would pass on the ownership to us and facilitate a sub-lease,” Enming says through his wife who is interpreting.
Makhera, who is facing a barrage of lawsuits from C-River creditors who expect him to raise money and pay them, vehemently denies that he sold the firm to Xie Brothers.
He says he never signed an agreement to sell the factory and describes Emning as a mere tenant who is renting C-River’s property from him as the liquidator.
To prove his point, Makhera is waving a sub-lease agreement which he claims Enming signed.
He says there were three witnesses — “two trade unionists and one Chinese man”.
According to Makhera, the trade unionists were Mots’oari Mokhachane and Monaheng Mokaoane from Lentsoe la Sechaba, the union representing the workers.
Ironically these are the same people whose signature appears on Enming’s deed of sale.
The Chinese man that Makhera refers to also appears to have signed both documents.
The only difference, however, is that Enming’s agreement of sale has his wife’s signature as the fourth witness.
Makhera says the sale of agreement document is a fabrication and he has since challenged its authenticity in court.
“I have never signed the deed of sale they are talking about and I only knew about it when they mentioned it in one of the papers,” Makhera says.
“The only thing I know is the memorandum of agreement of sub-lease we concluded, not the so-called deed of sale allegedly signed by me.
“In fact, I have taken them to court because of that deed of sale of theirs.
“It is surprising that nobody opposed me at the meeting with the Master of the High Court when I reported that we concluded a memorandum of sub-lease and not saying anything about the deed of sale.”
Mokaoane, whose signature appears on both documents as a witness, says he only signed the sale agreement which Enming is holding.
“I signed as a witness because I fully understood that the company was being sold and I witnessed when Makhera signed as a seller,” Mokaoane says.
And in a stunning twist, Mokaoane claims that he is one of the trade union members who head-hunted Enming to buy the company.
“In fact, we as a trade union head-hunted these Chinese to come and buy this firm because we were afraid that its total closure would leave hundreds of workers jobless,” he says.
“We asked them to leave their supermarkets and reopen the firm so that workers would not lose their jobs.
“I believe he was trying to steal the money paid to him which he dubbed security.
“I believe he has spent it.”The allegation could however not be independently verified.
Makhera is however adamant that he only received the M500 000 for “security and continuation for the function of the factory and not for sale”.
“Xie was informed that only after the liquidation process is complete will they be given the first preference to buy the company,” he says.
Makhera is under pressure to pay C-River’s former 700 workers severance packages worth M444 000.
While Makhera and Enming fight, C-River workers have continued to demand their severance packages.
Yesterday a group of workers thronged Makhera’s offices at LNDC Centre in Maseru to be registered as formal claimants.