Latest Sunday Times report scurrilous - Sekunjalo

Company says it is well known that Premier Fishing SA is in discussion with the CompCom

Sekunjalo rejects the scurrilous attempt by Times Media Group, Sunday Times to smear its reputation and good name

Chief Executive Officer of Sekunjalo Investments Limited, Mr Khalid Abdulla said "the latest attempt by the Sunday Times is a cheap shot aimed at Sekunjalo" (see report). It is well known that Premier Fishing SA (Pty) Ltd (Premier Fishing) is in discussion with the Competition Commission around an investigation into the small pelagic industry and this is yet another desperate attempt by the Sunday Times to portray Premier Fishing in a bad light.

Sekunjalo has been subjected to defamatory attacks by the Times Media Group (TMG) over the last few months since Sekunjalo Holdings acquired the competitor to TMG, Independent News Media South Africa (INMSA). TMG Newspapers and online have published almost 60 articles on Sekunjalo since its acquisition of INMSA. In almost all instances the articles are defamatory and an attempt to paint a negative picture of Sekunjalo in the eyes of the public, readers and advertisers. This shameful attempt by Sunday Times and TMG's associated newspapers and online sites is a desperate attempt to undermine INMSA in the market place.

Premier Fishing and Sekunjalo are very hesitant to comment as we respect the authority of the Competition Commission during this process. However, Sekunjalo has been forced to defend its public reputation due to the malicious campaign by the Sunday Times to defame the company. This is the second time in as many months that the Sunday Times completely disregards and disrespects regulatory authorities and their process by publishing information which is not complete and uses it to create the impression that the company has committed a transgression.

The complaint against Oceana, (the largest industry player in small pelagics) and smaller fishing companies such as Premier Fishing relates to the use by the entire industry of the application of a raw fish formula to determine the remuneration of vessel owners, skippers and crew. It should be noted, that the process of remunerating skippers, crew and boat owners was prevalent across the pelagic industry for more than 40 years, pre-existing the acquisition of Premier Fishing by Sekunjalo Investments Ltd.

The matter involving Premier Fishing is much narrower in scope than the matter relating to all the other fishing companies and in respect of which Oceana concluded a consent order with the Competition Commission. The alleged contraventions of the Competition Act are technical in nature and not typical of blatant collusive activity and we reserve our rights in this matter.

Mr Abdulla referred the media to a press statement issued by Oceana when they signed a consent agreement with the Competition Commission, CEO Francois Kuttel said, "The bulk of the penalty relates to open negotiations which were in place for the purpose of compensating skippers, crew, and some private boat owners in the small pelagic industry for over four decades. Whilst it was technically a contravention of the Competition Act, we believed this activity was covered by the exemption relating to collective bargaining."

Premier Fishing made it very clear that it was one of the few fishing companies that tried to change the collective bargaining process but it was rejected by the skippers and crew. Premier Fishing has provided the Competition Commission with this record of interaction.

The Sunday Times has deliberately tried to misinform the public and create the impression that the technical contravention of the Act was recent. The facts are however, Premier Fishing exited the collective bargaining arrangements after the sale of its cannery and fish meal plant during 2006. The complaints against it, which relate to its canning operations, are therefore historic complaints. Moreover, it was not a significant competitor in the market during the relevant times.

Whilst Premier Fishing has been engaged in a settlement negotiation with the Competition Commission to deal with this matter, taking into account the legal costs and management time, Premier Fishing does not believe that it has been guilty of contravening the Competition Act in relation to any matter involving the pelagic industry.

As far as Premier Fishing is aware, the Competition Commission has not yet referred the matter against Premier Fishing to the Tribunal for hearing and any potential financial outcome has already been accounted for previously by the Company.

We reiterate, Sekunjalo Investments Ltd and its subsidiaries are fully compliant with the legal, ethical and corporate governance framework in South Africa and we emphatically reject any attempt to suggest that it or any of its subsidiary companies have been involved in blatant collusive practices.

Premier Fishing and Sekunjalo will not issue any further comment until the matter is resolved with the Competition Commission and ask people to respect regulatory processes in this country.

It is clear that Times Media Group and its publications have no regard for regulatory institutions and due processes. We are not surprised.

Statement issued by Khalid Abdulla, CEO: Sekunjalo Investments Ltd, February 18 2014

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