Company executives sacked for Grace's dairy equipment

Swedish multinational dairy equipment supplier DeLaval is tight-lipped about the managing director of its South African arm, Leon Lilje, and one of his senior managers, Rykie Visser, suddenly leaving the company.

According to the group’s spokesperson, Benoit Passard, they left to pursue other career opportunities.

But sources say that Lilje and Visser were linked to the multimillion rand sale of DeLaval equipment to Gushungo Dairy Estate, owned by President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace. She reportedly gained control of the dairy as a beneficiary of her husband’s controversial and internationally criticised land-reform programme.

“I want to stress that Lilje and Visser were not dismissed from DeLaval,” Passard said. He went on to say that after a breach of the company’s internal code of conduct, an agreement was reached that the pair would pursue outside careers.

“All I can add is that had DeLaval International known from the beginning about a deal to sell products to Grace Mugabe’s business, it wouldn’t have been allowed to go through.”

Meanwhile, an anonymous source within the South African dairy industry said it’s believed Lilje and Visser had been made into fall guys for DeLaval to protect its international reputation. DeLaval International must reportedly adhere to the strict sanctions imposed by the European Union on the Mugabes, as well as other Zanu-PF officials.

“I heard that Lilje and Visser were asked for a dairy equipment quote by a third party,” the source said. ”After the quote was sent off, the money for the equipment was apparently deposited into DeLaval South Africa’s bank account. The pair had the equipment delivered somewhere, and the next thing they knew, it was on Grace Mugabe’s farm. I don’t believe they knew what was happening.”

Milk Producers’ Organisation of SA CEO Bertus de Jongh said he’d heard of Lilje and Visser leaving DeLaval, but that he was not aware why they had left. “These guys were well-respected in the South African dairy industry. They’ve done a lot for the industry over the years. It’s a great pity that we seem to have lost them now,” De Jongh said.

Passard confirmed that Monica de Witt had been appointed as DeLaval SA’s new managing director. He said she already had extensive experience in DeLaval International’s operations and was therefore an ideal candidate to take over. – Farmers Weekly (SA)