By Shinovene Immanuel and Ndanki Kahiurika | 11 Novemeber 2016
A FORMER Air Namibia executive in Germany has been accused of dishonesty, fraud, receiving expensive gifts from business people, violating the anti-corruption law and failing to protect the airline’s interest.
Air Namibia instructed Deloitte & Touche to investigate allegations of corruption among its staff. Part of the findings contained in a report that cost N$6 million implicated Willem “Wimpie” van Vuuren, a former country manager who was based in Frankfurt, Germany, for more than 10 years.
The report, which The Namibian has seen, is dated April 2014. It accuses Van Vuuren of “accepting substantial business courtesies or gifts, either in cash or in kind, in connection with his employment.”
Despite the findings, Air Namibia insists that Van Vuuren, now a senior marketing manager in Windhoek, is innocent of all the allegations.
The report states that the German police also investigated Van Vuuren on the same allegations. In addition, the auditors advised Air Namibia to report their findings to the Anti-Corruption Commission, and make them available to the German authorities for investigation.
Focus was also on Van Vuuren’s relationship with the owners of GIC International Catering, a Frankfurt-based company which supplied meals and other services to Air Namibia.
The report recommended that the board should consider suing GIC to recover the losses that the airline suffered as a result of possible corruption. It appears none of the recommendations were acted on.
Van Vuuren is accused of having had a relationship with GIC managing director Marion Reincke. Although he admitted meeting her outside business hours, he said it was not for romantic purposes. He failed this question during a lie detector test.
The auditors find that “he tolerated improper influence, bribery or unethical conduct by GIC, and failed to immediately report such conduct; and/or failed to perform his duties with honesty and integrity”.
The report says Van Vuuren accepted a Rolex watch worth more than N$400 000 from the company.
Van Vuuren said he does not know the worth of the watch, but he returned it. He said he had provided accommodation and his car to GIC officials when they travelled to Namibia. The cost of that is estimated at around N$46 000, he said.
The auditors said Van Vuuren “deceived and lied” about his dealings with GIC, even when he was subjected to a polygraph test in January 2014, which he failed dismally.
After reviewing GIC’s invoices to Air Namibia between 2008 and 2012, the auditors found that the catering firm overcharged the airline by claiming to have catered for 9 650 passengers, while Air Namibia’s records showed that only 7 481 passengers were on the relevant flights.
They said the indications were that “GIC or its representatives or Van Vuuren may have defrauded Air Namibia by misrepresenting the amounts in the invoices that GIC submitted to Air Namibia for approval”.
All the invoices were signed by Van Vuuren, who failed to verify them, according to the report.
The auditors added that it was impossible to verify the pricing on the invoices because there was no record of what prices had been agreed on.
“In the absence of any proof of delivery and price lists to which to compare the pricing in the attachment, it is not clear on which basis any of these invoices could have been approved [and paid], or whether the charges contained therein were reasonable,” the report says.
The report also says Van Vuuren’s decision to extend the catering contract with the same firm from 2006 to 2007, and his approval of inflated payments, should be viewed as being corrupt.
Air Namibia’s current country manager, Bekim Dura, had questioned the invoices in 2005. At the time, Dura was working for Aviareps AG, Air Namibia’s sales agent in Germany, where he was in charge of processing VAT claims and paying suppliers.
He found that GIC overcharged Air Namibia in two separate months in 2005 by claiming to have provided services for twice the number of recorded passengers on certain flights.
Dura told the investigators that when he confronted GIC, the company blamed the discrepancies on its accountant. The investigators found only one signed agreement between GIC and Air Namibia, which was concluded on 1 November 2003.
The only other agreement they came across was for 2006. It was unsigned, and used the same wording as the 2003 contract.
The report says that a catering contract worth N$10 million over a three-year period was supposed to have been in force between 1 December 2010 and 30 November 2013, but there was none.
During the polygraph test, Van Vuuren denied having a close relationship with GIC’s owners, and claimed that he returned the Rolex watch when he realised it was “too expensive”.
The investigators concluded that he had lied. “Deception indicated (not honest),” concluded the South African polygraph examiner, Charles Zeelie.
Van Vuuren answered only one of eight questions truthfully, the report says. It adds that he broke Air Namibia’s disciplinary code by acting fraudulently; abusing his position of trust, failing to act in the best interests of Air Namibia; having conflicting interests; and gross negligence.
The former Frankfurt boss claims that he was intimidated during that test, and that he has not seen the final report yet.
“I just want to move on with my life,” he told The Namibian yesterday.
In that report, Van Vuuren said GIC was already providing services to the airline when he joined Air Namibia, and that the contract was facilitated by Air Namibia’s operations manager, Sky Care.
He told the investigators that the pricing was agreed annually between the airline’s user department and GIC.
This contradicts the auditors’ allegation that Van Vuuren “acknowledged that GIC’s relationship with the airline was … dealt with poorly, and that there was never really a contract in place.”
Van Vuuren told the auditors that the 2003 GIC agreement was the only contract he signed with GIC, and then only as a witness.
He denied having received cash from GIC, or having a romantic relationship with GIC’s boss Marion Reincke, whom he said he had only met outside business hours for business purposes.
Van Vuuren furthermore told investigators that he owns a house at 9 Beril Street, Eros, in Windhoek, which he purchased in 2004. There is also a house at 135 Eros Road, in Windhoek, which he purchased in 2012, with an outstanding bond of around N$2,6 million.
He owns an apartment at Eros, Windhoek, which he purchased in 2012, with an outstanding bond of N$800 000; as well as a two-bedroom apartment in Stellenbosch in South Africa, which he purchased in 2013 for N$1 280 000.
He and his brother inherited a house in Henties Bay from their mother, but sold it for N$800 000, and he used N$300 000 to pay a deposit on the Stellenbosch apartment.
Air Namibia spokesperson Paul Nakawa said the audit report was not commissioned by the airline’s management, but by the former board of directors.
“We therefore have reservations as management to comment on its content,” he noted.
Nakawa said the airline is aware of the allegations against Van Vuuren.
“The allegations were made known to management some time back, but not through the forensic report. We, however, can confirm that the allegations were thoroughly investigated by the German police in Frankfurt, as the alleged transgressions are said to have taken place in that country,” he added.
Nakawa claimed that the outcome of the investigation by the German police was that these allegations were “untruthful, devoid of any truth and could not be substantiated”.
“There was no proof whatsoever. As a result, the names of our employee and our suppliers in Germany were cleared. A report stating that the investigation by the German Police did not find any wrongdoing by our employee and the suppliers was issued,” he said.
Nakawa provided no proof that the German police had cleared Van Vuuren. Sources supporting Van Vuuren showed The Namibian a copy of a letter from the German police that says that their investigation against Van Vuuren and other suspects in the case of alleged corruption had been dropped by the prosecuting attorney there.
Questions sent to the police in Germany were not answered by yesterday to verify the validity of that letter dated 16 December 2014.
Board chairperson Gerson Tjihenuna refused to respond to questions, while questions sent to GIC three weeks ago were not answered.
*This story was produced by The Namibian’s investigative unit team, with support from amaBhungane, an independent centre for investigative journalism in South Africa.