DENEL BOSS FIGHTS BACK
The Hillier Commercial Building in Sheung Wan district in Hong Kong is the last place you’d expect to find a branch of a state-owned arms company.
The outside of the building advertises music lessons, golf club fitting services, gel nails and a physiotherapist called Big Feet which specialises in “foot and cervical” treatments.
It’s also home to Denel Asia, the controversial joint venture created between Denel and VR Laser Asia.
In a written statement, Denel said it selected VR Laser Asia as a joint venture partner because the company “is familiar with the industrial landscape in the world’s fastest-growing defence market”.
Public records show that both Denel Asia and its new partner VR Laser Asia are registered at Flat A on the 15th floor.
When City Press arrived, we found no sign of VR Laser Asia, but instead a nail salon and the offices of Stephen M.S. Lai & Co, a shelf company registration business.
Inside those offices, heaps of files were piled on the floor. The secretary behind the desk confirmed that VR Laser Asia was a client of theirs.
Asked if VR Laser Asia had offices in Hong Kong, the woman behind the desk said she wasn’t aware of one. She only knew of their offices in South Africa. She said she didn’t have a phone number for them, and couldn’t provide an email address.
When Denel’s acting CFO, Odwa Mhlwana, appeared before Parliament this week, he told MPs that Denel only chose strategic partners after a thorough due diligence process.
Despite this, he conceded that for now, VR Laser Asia only exists on paper. “The business was incorporated in June 2014. It is a business that hasn’t got any operations in it,” he said. “But what makes this business attractive to us is that it is strongly related to VR Laser SA.”
Denel has been evasive about the exact relationship between VR Laser Asia and VR Laser, the South African company in which the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma hold minority stakes.
Mhlwana stressed that VR Laser Asia is a separate company and that any dealings with them won’t benefit the Guptas. He stressed, though, that the two companies are connected through their common shareholder, Salim Essa.
“In terms of our memorandum of incorporation, we have made it very clear that the capability that resides in VR Laser South Africa will be brought into this partnership.”
Mhlwana had also said that VR Laser Asia had promised to give R100 million to the partnership.
City Press sent detailed questions to Denel, VR Laser and VR Laser Asia. Denel referred all questions to the two private companies. Neither VR Laser company offered any response.
FOREIGN TIES The registered address of Denel Asia in Hong Kong’s Sheung Wan district. When City Press visited the office, we found no sign of Denel Asia or their partner VR Laser Asia, but instead a nail salon and a shelf company registration office