The board of Old Mutual says it has been informed that the deputy judge president of the South Gauteng High Court has set an accelerated timetable for the appeal against the high court judgement which temporarily reinstated Peter Moyo as chief executive officer.
The appeal will be heard on 4 December 2019, it said.
The battle between the two parties began when Moyo was suspended as CEO toward the end of May 2019 and then fired three weeks later, with Old Mutual citing a breakdown of trust and conflict of interest.
He successfully challenged the dismissal in court as being unfair and had his contract reinstated – only to then be fired for a second time soon after.
Moyo’s legal team has regarded the second dismissal and the move by Old Mutual to prevent him from returning to work, as being in contempt of the court order that reinstated his contract.
Old Mutual’s board, however, disagrees.
In an emailed statement on Tuesday (29 October), Old Mutual said it welcomed the decision to expedite the appeal hearing. “Though keen to put the matter behind the company, the dispute with the former CEO threatens to upend corporate governance and general principles of company law if left unchallenged.
“Even as the board seeks a speedy resolution consistent with their duties, the directors also have a duty and obligation to defend through the courts the legitimacy of the board and its actions in the best interests of Old Mutual.”
Old Mutual noted that Moyo and his legal team filed a contempt of court application against the board of Old Mutual for its refusal to re-admit him to the offices of Old Mutual and for the company’s decision to issue a second notice of termination on 21 August 2019.
It also noted that on 15 October, Moyo filed a replying affidavit introducing a new ground of contempt, in which he claims that Old Mutual and its directors have embarked on a campaign of insulting Judge Mashile personally.
This, Old Mutual said, has created a situation where it is not reasonable for Judge Mashile to hear the matter. “Old Mutual and its directors have therefore been advised to apply for his recusal as the presiding judge in the upcoming contempt of court hearing, which as things stand is due to be heard in early November,” it said.
“The decision to proceed with the recusal application was a difficult one,” the statement read. “The directors emphatically state they mean no disrespect to Judge Mashile. However, by making Judge Mashile the subject of the contempt proceedings, Mr Moyo’s team have created a situation where the judge would have to decide on claims which now directly involve him personally.”
Old Mutual said that its directors “have made decisions which they had a rational basis to believe were in the best interests of the company”.
“At every step of this matter, we have tried to always act with that obligation in mind. We will continue to act in the interest of our stakeholders; this means our shareholders, our policyholders, our customers and our 33,000 employees,” it said.