SOME of the 200 employees left in the cold after the closure of micro financer, Platinum Credit, say they are now living in abject poverty.
They therefore want the government to intervene and help resolve the ownership dispute that has paralysed the fledgling micro lender.
The ex-employees spoke as it emerged that the firm’s controversial chief executive officer, Motena Lishea, had started moving assets allegedly looted from the company to South Africa to avoid the long arm of the law. This after the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) successfully froze the accounts of Platinum Credit after allegations of fraud and theft levelled against Ms Lishea at the M280 million company.
Ms Lishea had – soon after the DCEO secured the warrants to freeze the bank accounts – started laying off the firm’s employees, saying she no longer had the resources to pay their wages.
“We were simply told that the company no longer has money to pay salaries and we must go home… We were then sent home with nothing. Imagine coming into the office expecting to get paid and then being told there is nothing for you…no salary, no severance pays, no gratuity…. just nothing,” said one of a group of ex-employees who narrated their grievances to the Lesotho Times this week.
They said what irked them most was that while they had been sent home penniless, Ms Lishea had been splurging; building a mansion for herself, buying or hiring expensive cars, going on exotic holidays and convening expensive parties. Only last weekend, they said she had splurged on a birthday party for her boyfriend turned “partner in crime”, Tsenase Tsenase, a lawyer by profession. Ms Lishea had hired Advocate Tsenase to do legal work for the company but subsequently fell in love with her. They have since been pictured in plush resorts, allegedly using Platcorp’s looted funds.
The ex-staffers said they had learnt that Ms Lishea had either been moving assets she had stripped from Platinum Credit to South Africa or registering some of them in the names of her close acquaintances. She had appointed one of her family members – Liteboho Lishea (sibling) to the board of Platinum Credit.
“By the time the DCEO awakens and arrest her, there might be nothing left,” said another ex-staffer, who actually claimed that Ms Lishea had moved millions from Platinum Credit’s accounts into her personal accounts before the DCEO secured an order to free the company’s accounts. This would have enabled her to move the cash already if she so decided. The ex-staffers said they could not understand why the DCEO had opted to freeze the company accounts only, while sparing her personal accounts. When you deal with a suspected criminal, you must close all loopholes, they said.
“I am a single parent and I have got three kids to look after. I have not been paid for months. Imagine getting into the office and being told to just go home without any compensation. I am stranded, I am hungry. I have no one to turn to…,” cried one ex-employee.
“If at least we had been formally retrenched and gotten paid our retrenchment packages, it would have been better. We would at least have had something to live on while looking for new job opportunities. But we have nothing.”
The employees said they could not understand why authorities were not caring about their plight.
“This company had hundreds of employees but it seems no one is caring about us. We are being treated so badly. No one (from government) has ever contacted us to speak to us and to get to know what’s happening. It’s as if we don’t exist,” another ex-worker said.
The employees refused to be identified just in case Ms Lishea wins the case against the DCEO and gets the company’s accounts unfrozen and calls them back to work.
“We have suffered enough and if she calls us back, we will go despite all the ill treatment she has been meting out against us…,” said an ex-staffer.
“It’s hard to be unemployed when the cost of living is so high. Also, I am looking for any other job and I don’t want potential employers to fear I will speak out against them one day. So, I don’t want to be named. Also, she (Lishea) might kill me… She has been heard threatening to harm people standing in her way including you (journalists) and even judge Mokhesi and other lawyers”
Ms Lishea’s case with the DCEO is back in court on 7 August 2023. She wants Platinum Credit’s accounts unfrozen to enable her to continue running the business pending the resolution of a main application about the ownership of the company.
Ms Lishea is locked up in an ownership battle with international financial services conglomerate, Platcorp.
Platcorp had bought out Ms Lishea’s micro lender, Wazzah, since the latter had already secured a much sought-after micro lending licence. The company was then renamed Platinum Credit in May 2020.
A share purchase agreement had been entered into between Ms Lishea and Platcorp on 1 June 2020 in terms of which the latter purchased all the issued shares of Wazzah. The agreement was nonetheless not immediately consummated because of the constraints in international travel due to Covid -19.
But Platcorp, trusting its relationship with Ms Lishea and based on the share purchase agreement already signed between the parties, had begun releasing money to Platinum Credit. It started by releasing a M40 million investment, increasing this to M280 million, enabling Platinum Credit to grow rapidly into becoming Lesotho’s third largest micro lender after Letshego and Lesana.
When the time to affect the ownership changes came, amid the return to normal business life after the end of Covid-19, Ms Lishea had then made a U-turn and refused to hand-over the company to Platcorp. She had meanwhile faced allegations of looting the company.
Multiple court battles have since been fought in the past year with the DCEO eventually winning the case to freeze the company’s accounts Standard Lesotho Bank and Lesotho PostBank. Still, Platcorp’s lawyer, Neil Fraser, of Webber Newdigate Attorneys is irate that Ms Lishea seemed to have circumvented some of the court orders and managed to withdraw millions from the company’s account at Lesotho PostBank. He has written to the bank demanding answers. He says his clients are frustrated that he has not been given a response and they are considering legal action to sue the bank for “aiding and abetting” Ms Lishea to circumvent a court order.
“This is an open and shut criminal case requiring urgent action from the authorities to safeguard the assets of a foreign investor,” Mr Fraser said in an interview this week.
“This case will severely besmirch the reputation of the country as an investment destination if our clients lose their investments and there is no firm action from the authorities to deal with the suspects.”
The multiple cases fought thus far have seen Ms Lishea being sent to jail, alongside six of her other directors, by High Court Judge Moroke Mokhesi. This after the judge had found the directors in contempt of court for defying his judgment for them to co-manage the finances of the company with Platcorp pending the resolution of their ownership dispute. Ms Lishea and the other directors were nonetheless only jailed for a week before being released by Court of Appeal President Kananelo Mosito pending their appeal against Judge Mokhesi’s six-month sentences without an option of a fine.
Three of the directors Nthati Khutlisi, Lindiwe Adontsi, Matseliso Petrus and company secretary, Khati Mahase, have since turned whistleblowers. They have signed affidavits alleging that Ms Lishea looted company funds and splurged on things not related to the business.
As the court battles drag on, it is the company’s now stranded ex-employees who are crying for help. They say they are encouraged by Platcorp’s promise to resuscitate the company and invest M1 billion more if the dispute is resolved soon and in its favour. They say they therefore cannot understand why there is no concerted effort from authorities to deal with the matter decisively and save jobs.