SA Air­link will have to wait to learn fate

The Citizen (KZN) - - News - Ber­nade e Wicks

SA Air­link has launched an ur­gent ap­pli­ca­tion in the High Court in Jo­han­nes­burg to re­coup hun­dreds of mil­lions of rands in air­fares from the em­bat­tled South African Air­ways (SAA).

It said the liveli­hoods of its more than 1 700 em­ploy­ees hang in the bal­ance and un­less these monies are paid, it could soon be forced to close its doors.

The mat­ter was ar­gued yes­ter­day but judg­ment was re­served.

As per an agree­ment be­tween SAA and Air­link, the for­mer had for some time been sell­ing tick­ets for the lat­ter’s flights on its own plat­forms, us­ing its own com­puter sys­tem, and the funds in ques­tion in these pro­ceed­ings – which to­tal R536 mil­lion – were the pro­ceeds of the sale of these flights for Novem­ber and De­cem­ber last year.

At the heart of the case is the stance taken by the busi­ness prac­ti­tion­ers that were late last year ap­pointed to the helm of the now bankrupt SAA’s con­tro­ver­sial busi­ness res­cue, that these funds con­sti­tuted a debt owed by SAA to Air­link and were thus sub­jected to the mora­to­rium that was placed on cred­i­tor claims dur­ing a busi­ness res­cue.

Air­link dis­agreed, its stance be­ing that these funds in fact be­longed to Air­link and were its prop­erty.

Ad­vo­cate Rafik Bhana for Air­link, de­scribed the is­sue at hand as “the un­law­ful ap­pro­pri­a­tion of what is es­sen­tially trust money, held by SAA and the im­proper use and re­ten­tion of that”.

He said SAA’s only de­fence was that its re­la­tion­ship with Air­link was one of a cred­i­tor and a debtor and that, as a re­sult, Air­link “must wait your turn in due course”.

“Of course, we know that in due course, there’s go­ing to be no money to pay these cred­i­tors,” he said. “But in any event it’s an un­help­ful char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion”.

Bhana said the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the two was, in re­al­ity, one of a prin­ci­pal and an agent,

“The funds be­long to Air­link … sub­ject to the de­duc­tion of com­mis­sions by SAA,” he added.

“Air­link is not a sup­plier to SAA of air­line tick­ets and pas­sen­ger seats. Air­link is a prin­ci­pal, with SAA as its agent,” Bhana said.

How­ever, Ad­vo­cate John Sut­tner, for SAA and the busi­ness prac­ti­tion­ers, de­scribed the re­la­tion­ship as an “al­liance”.

And of the own­er­ship of the monies, Sut­tner said: “My learned friend has re­peat­edly said that SAA was hold­ing the funds on trust.

“If the funds were held on trust, there may be a case against SAA.

“You will not find the word ‘trust’ in ei­ther the found­ing af­fi­davit or the re­ply­ing af­fi­davit. We say it is wrong for that propo­si­tion to be put to the court.

“If it was in the af­fi­davit it would have been de­nied.”

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