By Deon Schlechter
WINDHOEK – Witvlei Meat abattoir will appear in the international arena this week after informing the Norwegian high court late last week of its intentions to sue for payment of N$50 million for its final consignment of 350 tonnes of Namibian prime beef to Norway.
The urgent application comes in the wake of Witvlei Meat closing the abattoir in Witvlei two weeks ago and sending its entire workforce of almost 200 people home with a final pay cheque.
Witvlei Meat Board chairperson, Sidney Martin, confirmed lodging an urgent application in the Oslo high court last week but was adamant Witvlei Meat is not bankrupt, denying rumours the privately owned company is grasping at straws to save it from insolvency.
“Our Norwegian partner and shareholder of 30 percent, Nortura, owes us the N$50 million after an independent actuary discovered Witvlei Meat has been paid far less per tonne of frozen beef than promised over the past two years and we now demand the arrear payments as well as the payment for our last shipment of 350 tonnes,” Martin says.
Witvlei Meat’s demand for a bank guarantee from Nortura was sanctioned recently by the high court in The Hague, the Netherlands, for the full amount when Nortura’s agent, NoriDane, filed an urgent application with the court to take possession of the shipment on December 31, 2014, while it was waiting to be shipped to Norway.
While it is expected the court case in Oslo will be heard within the next seven days, the local spotlight has also been turned on the future of the Witvlei Meat abattoir. Various parties have shown interest in acquiring the abattoir, including Namibia’s now sole beef exporter to Norway, Meatco.
Meatco spokesperson, Mario Poolman, yesterday confirmed Meatco’s readiness to take over the operations of the Witvlei Meat abattoir under certain conditions of which the most important is that the current management of Witvlei Meat resigns.
Witvlei Meat has been renting the premises for the past eight years from Agribank with an option to buy. The latter did not happen and Agribank also took Witvlei Meat to court last year but the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Witvlei Meat occupying the premises with the option to buy for an amount in access of N$15 million.
Martin says Witvlei Meat is not bankrupt nor is it for sale. “We have many options and are keeping the abattoir in ‘idling mode’ to be ready to proceed with whatever option we chose,” he confirmed.
The long-standing relationship between Witvlei Meat and its Norwegian agent, NoriDane, a subsidiary of Nortura, has turned sour because of the dispute in court now, and it is unlikely the relationship will continue. That leaves a lot of unanswered questions but Martin says they will all be answered in due course. “First we must secure the N$50 million owed to us, and then decide on the road ahead,” he says.
Witvlei Meat is demanding that Nortura pay them the same price it was paying to Meatco over the past two years.
Martin says Witvlei Meat noticed how NoriDane was consistently suppressing the price it pays to Witvlei Meat since the partnership was formed three years ago. At the same time, it was noticed that NoriDane was achieving much higher prices for Nortura from the beef from Meatco and that led to a Witvlei Meat investigation that uncovered the unfair and unexplainable treatment of Witvlei Meat by NoriDane.
“Witvlei Meat’s queries went unanswered and after we raised the red flag our lawyers were successful with the appeal against the verdict and on January 5 it was ruled that Nortura pay us the N$50 million in two installments of some N$30 million and N$20 million, respectively,” Martin explained.