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CityPress - - News - SU­SAN COM­RIE in­ves­ti­ga­tions@city­press.co.za

espite na­tional air­line SAA be­ing in se­vere fi­nan­cial trou­ble, chair­per­son Dudu Myeni’s for­mer spokesper­son and ad­viser was brought on board at an av­er­age cost to the air­line of R167 000 a month. Nick Lin­nell, a for­mer lawyer from Zim­babwe turned busi­ness con­sul­tant, was hired by SAA last year as an ad­viser to its board.

Lin­nell pre­vi­ously worked for Myeni as her spokesper­son and ad­viser at the Mh­lathuze Wa­ter Board, where Myeni has a long and tu­mul­tuous stint as chair­per­son.

In March, he was tapped by Eskom’s then chair­per­son, Zola Tsotsi, to lead an ex­ter­nal in­quiry into the fi­nan­cial chaos at the paras­tatal. But af­ter Tsotsi’s de­par­ture, Eskom’s board re­placed Lin­nell be­cause his pro­posed ap­point­ment had not gone through an open ten­der process.

It ap­pears Lin­nell was ini­tially hired by SAA to lead the in­ves­ti­ga­tion against for­mer CEO Mon­wabisi Kalawe, but in­voices seen by City Press sug­gest he has be­come SAA’s Mr Fix-It, re­view­ing foren­sic re­ports, writ­ing media state­ments, draft­ing letters to min­is­ters and even lob­by­ing po­lice for a “high-level in­ves­ti­ga­tion” into foren­sic con­sul­tant Paul O’Sul­li­van.

Var­i­ous in­voices and billing mem­o­ran­dums in­di­cate that be­tween De­cem­ber and April, Lin­nell’s Cape Town­based com­pany, The Pro­ject Of­fice, billed SAA for 517 hours of work at an av­er­age cost of R1 596 an hour.

He also claimed back R4 784.34 for ho­tel ac­com­mo­da­tion, R3 683 for air­port park­ing and R5 382.20 for phone calls and print­ing. His to­tal bill came to R835 276.54.

But Lin­nell’s ex­act role at SAA re­mains un­clear. Lin­nell told City Press that due to client con­fi­den­tial­ity, he was “not at lib­erty to share de­tails of spe­cific work done”.

Nu­mer­ous en­tries show he has billed SAA for draft­ing press re­leases and re­ply­ing to media queries. This is de­spite the fact that SAA al­ready em­ploys spokesper­son Tlali Tlali on a salary of more than R100 000 a month.

Although Lin­nell is not reg­is­tered as a lawyer or an au­di­tor, he also ap­pears to have spent many hours re­view­ing foren­sic re­ports, le­gal opin­ions and af­fi­davits, build­ing case files and li­ais­ing with law firm ENSafrica.

In re­sponse, Lin­nell said: “I am not a prac­tis­ing at­tor­ney and don’t sug­gest so. Any pro­fes­sional ser­vices that we re­quire, be they ac­count­ing or le­gal, are pro­vided by one or more of the large pro­fes­sional firms that we use rou­tinely.”

How­ever, SAA al­ready pays for the ser­vices of two of ENSafrica’s most ex­pe­ri­enced lawyers, Steven Pow­ell (di­rec­tor of foren­sics) and Ge­orge van Niek­erk (di­rec­tor of dis­pute res­o­lu­tion).

City Press sent SAA a list of de­tailed ques­tions about Lin­nell’s role last week, but the air­line failed to com­ment.

How­ever, an in­sider with in­sight into the SAA board in­sisted that, de­spite the cost, Lin­nell’s ap­point­ment was good value for SAA be­cause he was of­ten the only per­son able to get through to Myeni and was help­ing to re­pair dam­aged re­la­tion­ships as well as give the chaotic board some di­rec­tion.

The doc­u­ments sug­gest that un­der the um­brella of the Kalawe in­ves­ti­ga­tion, SAA started pay­ing Lin­nell to in­ves­ti­gate O’Sul­li­van.

In an email to sev­eral state agen­cies, O’Sul­li­van falsely ac­cused Myeni of stash­ing mil­lions of eu­ros – sup­pos­edly the pro­ceeds of cor­rupt deals – in for­eign bank ac­counts. When O’Sul­li­van re­alised the bank state­ments were forg­eries, he with­drew the al­le­ga­tions and apol­o­gised.

De­spite SAA lawyers reach­ing an agree­ment with O’Sul­li­van, Myeni opened a crim­i­nal case against him for forgery and ut­ter­ing. In­voices show that, since March, SAA has been pay­ing for both Lin­nell and ENSafrica’s work on Myeni’s case against O’Sul­li­van.

In­voices show that Lin­nell billed SAA for var­i­ous ser­vices, in­clud­ing “meet­ing with ENS team [re­gard­ing O’Sul­li­van] in­for­ma­tion and strat­egy”, “dis­cus­sions to se­cure high-level Hawks in­quiry into [O’Sul­li­van] mat­ter”, “con­tact with Hawks of­fi­cers [re­gard­ing O’Sul­li­van] mat­ter”, and “re­view­ing judg­ments on [O’Sul­li­van] and back­ground checks”.

Ap­proached for com­ment, O’Sul­li­van said: “If she wants to get lawyers and go af­ter me, she should be pay­ing for it out of her own pocket.”

Ear­lier this year, SAA an­nounced that, de­spite nu­mer­ous bailouts and guar­an­tees, the air­line’s pre­car­i­ous fi­nan­cial po­si­tion meant that it would need to cut up to 10% of its staff.

On Thurs­day, sev­eral trade unions went to the labour court to try to pre­vent SAA from re­trench­ing any em­ploy­ees un­til they dis­closed de­tailed in­for­ma­tion about the air­line’s fi­nances.

Zenzo Mahlangu, gen­eral sec­re­tary of the SA Trans­port and Al­lied Work­ers’ Union (Satawu), said: “All we see among them is spy­ing against this one, spy­ing against that one, this one tap­ing that one – which is not ac­tu­ally im­prov­ing the sit­u­a­tion at SAA.”

In­stead of cut­ting the jobs of low-paid work­ers, some of whom earn about R5 000 a month, Satawu be­lieves the fo­cus of cost cuts should be in se­nior man­age­ment.

“Hir­ing a con­sul­tant in our view is an ac­knowl­edg­ment of de­fi­cien­cies in terms of ca­pa­bil­i­ties within,” Mahlangu said.

“In our view, SAA’s prob­lems lie within se­nior man­age­ment and mid­dle man­age­ment. We think they have been sleep­ing for too long – they’ve got to a point where they think sleep­ing is ac­cept­able.”

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