As Old Mutual, which spent most part of 2019 entangled in a public battle with its former CEO, prepares to appoint his successor, Peter Moyo's lawyer says the insurer cannot go ahead until the matter is heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal.
In the Johannesburg High Court on Tuesday, the insurer won its appeal against an earlier order reinstating Moyo. Tuesday's judgement also overturned the ruling by Judge Brian Mashile in July, which prevented the company from appointing a new CEO.
Old Mutual had fired Moyo a month earlier, citing loss of trust and confidence in him because of an alleged conflict of interest involving NMT Capital, an investment company the former CEO co-founded.
Moyo's lawyer, Eric Mabuza, said because he's already sent the letter to Old Mutual, formally informing the company of Moyo's intention to take his case to the highest appeals court in Bloemfontein, the new appeal ruling is now suspended. Moyo will file the actual application for leave to appeal within the 30 days of the judgement.
"The appeal judgement is suspended and Judge Mashile's judgement is the one that remains operational. They can't appoint a new CEO," said Mabuza.
However, Old Mutual says it is going ahead with the appointment of a permanent CEO. Acting CEO Iain Williamson said when Judge Mashile interdicted the company with his July ruling, the insurer's board had already begun the recruitment process but was then forced to halt it.
"The legal advice we have is that because the original judgement has completely been overturned, this judgement now [Tuesday's appeal ruling] allows us to continue with that process," he said.
READ: ANALYSIS | Old Mutual vs. Moyo: Understanding the parties' rights and obligations
In 2019, Old Mutual also said it received legal advice that Mashile's judgement was suspended when the insurer launched its appeal application. This was the reason why it barred Moyo from entering its executive suite. But when Mashile gave the insurer a green light to appeal his order, he clarified that the July ruling still stood.
'All the way'
Prof Rehana Cassim, head of corporate law at Unisa, said Moyo first has to apply for leave to appeal. The SCA may grant him that or it may not. If it does, Cassim said Moyo will still need to argue his case. However, once the appeal is formally lodged, this week's ruling will be suspended, she said.
"It seems thus far that the appeal hasn't been lodged. Until that happens, Old Mutual can go ahead. You cannot say because I'm going to appeal, you must stop the recruitment process. You can say, it's probably advisable to hold off because if the latest judgement is overturned, the new CEO will then have to step down, but you can't say it's prohibited under law," said Cassim.
Both Old Mutual and Moyo's legal team said they are prepared to carry on with their battle if needed. Williamson said Old Mutual will oppose Moyo's application for leave to appeal while Mabuza warned a longer road lies ahead.
"It's going to be a long, long road. We are walking this road the same way that Mr Manuel said he's going to walk it, all the way," said Mabuza.