Telkom CFO Defends Loan Procedure, Says Superiors Signed Off

Telkom SA SOC Ltd.’s chief financial officer, Jacques Schindehutte, said he received the appropriate signoff from his superiors when procuring an interest-free loan, rejecting the company’s assertion that he authorized it himself.

Telkom Chief Executive Officer Sipho Maseko and human resources officials approved the 6 million-rand ($538,000) loan, which was used to buy company stock, Schindehutte said in an interview last week. The executive has been told by Telkom, Africa’s biggest fixed-line phone company, to repay it. Schindehutte has been suspended from his position because of an unrelated matter, according to Telkom.

Telkom on Jan. 14 said the loan breached corporate governance regulations and that Schindehutte oversaw the provision of the loan to himself. E-mail correspondence among directors, obtained by Bloomberg News and confirmed by Schindehutte, show that both the company’s chairman and head of its remuneration committee supported the granting of the loan. CEO Maseko sought to take a similar loan himself, though ultimately didn’t, the e-mails show. Telkom officials declined to comment on the content of the correspondence.

The spat over the loan is a distraction for a company trying to stem a four-year streak of sliding revenue. Maseko, a former Vodacom SA executive who joined Telkom last April, is cutting costs at the carrier’s struggling mobile unit and trying to boost revenue from data. Telkom is 40 percent held by the South African government and employs about 21,000 people, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

‘Totally Appropriately’

“It would be unheard of to suggest that I had any influence in granting my loan because the decision was there for HR and the group CEO to make,” Schindehutte said. “I’ve acted totally appropriately with regard to this loan and I followed the normal process, which includes seeking the authority of my superior manager.”

Schindehutte e-mailed Maseko, Chairman Jabu Mabuza and Santie Botha, the head of the remuneration committee, on Sept. 27 asking to take out a loan from the Pretoria-based company, according to the e-mail exchanges. Using the loan to buy company shares would deliver a “huge show of confidence” to the market, he said in an e-mail.

Mabuza and Botha both replied the same day saying they supported the transaction, the correspondence shows.

“I also want to follow up on this and follow Jacques,” Maseko said in a reply to Mabuza and Botha after receiving Schindehutte’s proposal. “Want to be able to consummate the transaction on Monday,” Maseko said.

Disciplinary Hearing

Maseko was unable to buy the stock, the CEO said in a separate e-mail on Oct. 1. “My broker did not execute on the transaction -- I would not want to push it now given the rules,” Maseko said in the e-mail addressed to Schindehutte and other company officials. “I’m miffed but rather safe than sorry.”

Telkom yesterday declined to comment on the communication, citing confidentiality related to a hearing into the CFO’s conduct. Botha and Mabuza didn’t return calls to their offices.

Schindehutte personally oversaw the advancement of the payment of the loan amount to himself, Telkom said in its Jan. 14 statement. He had “oversight responsibility” for corporate governance, including regulatory and administrative processes relating to loans to Telkom directors, it said.

Potential Profit

The CFO was suspended in October following the outcome of an investigation into unspecified allegations of misconduct. He remains a Telkom employee. A disciplinary hearing into the matter started Jan. 16, according to the company.

“Telkom will not be responding to media queries involving Mr Schindehutte for the duration of the hearing to ensure that such comments do not have an impact on the process,” the company said in an e-mailed response to questions. Telkom “is committed to uphold all requirements of corporate governance to allow the hearing to be conducted in a fair manner.”

Schindehutte bought 243,700 Telkom shares for 5.96 million rand, or 24.45 rand each, on Sept. 30, the company said in an Oct. 2 statement. The stock was little changed at 31.50 rand, or 29 percent higher than what Schindehutte paid, at the close of trading in Johannesburg, amounting to a potential profit for the director of about 1.73 million rand.

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