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Money Management

CEO of Africa’s biggest fund manager is said to face suspension

Daniel Matjila

Daniel Matjila, the CEO of the Public Investment Corp., will probably be suspended while his role in several questionable investments by Africa's biggest money manager is investigated, according to three people with knowledge of the matter.

The Pretoria-based PIC manages South African state-workers' pensions and oversees assets worth 1.9 trillion rand ($151 billion). The move against Mr. Matjila comes amid a crackdown on graft being spearheaded by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who took office in February and is on a drive to restore confidence in public institutions following his predecessor Jacob Zuma's scandal-marred nine-year tenure.

The probe will consider whether Mr. Matjila followed proper procedures when the PIC spent 4.3 billion rand backing last year's initial public offering of Ayo Technology Solutions Ltd., according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to comment. The PIC paid 43 rand a share for a 29% stake in the information technology company, valuing it at 14.8 billion rand. The company had a net asset value of 4.4 billion rand at the end of February, up from just 188 million rand six month earlier, according to a stock exchange filing.

Mr. Matjila's role in decisions by the PIC to invest in VBS Mutual Bank, a failed lender, and Resilient REIT Ltd., a real estate investor that's being probed by regulators over allegations of insider trading, share price manipulation and misleading reporting, will also come under scrutiny, the people said.

Mr. Matjila, who has a mathematics doctorate and has been in his post since December 2014, didn't respond to messages left on his mobile phone. His office referred queries to Deon Botha, the PIC's head of corporate affairs, who didn't answer his mobile phone on Wednesday or respond to emailed questions.

On Tuesday, Mr. Botha confirmed a report in Johannesburg's Business Day newspaper that the PIC's investment committee was probing the Ayo deal to ensure correct investment processes were followed. The stock has declined 19% since it was listed in December.

The Financial Sector Conduct Authority has been investigating allegations that Resilient was involved in market manipulation since January and hasn't set a date for the completion of the investigation. Its shares have tumbled 58% this year.

"The Resilient investigation is very complex," Solly Keetse, the regulator's head of market abuse, said in an emailed response to questions. "Investigators are hard at work trying to expedite its finalization."

Resilient commissioned its own investigation in February headed by Shauket Fakie, South Africa's former auditor-general, to probe allegations by fund managers that its share price had been inflated by insider traders. Mr. Fakie had uncovered no evidence of market manipulation or any other impropriety, and that it will cooperate fully with any regulatory probe, Resilient said in a stock exchange filing last month.

VBS, one of South Africa's smallest banks, was placed under administration in March after it was unable to repay money that had been invested by several municipalities. The PIC is one of the largest shareholders in the lender, which isn't publicly traded.

Lawmakers have been pushing for the PIC to improve its oversight and become more transparent. On Tuesday, the National Assembly approved a new law that will compel the money manager to appoint labor union officials to its board and to submit a record of all its listed and unlisted investments to the finance minister annually.

On Monday, lawyers acting for the United Democratic Movement, a small opposition party, wrote to Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, demanding that Mr. Matjila be immediately suspended and brought before a disciplinary panel to answer allegations that he'd help facilitate several loans from the PIC without following due process.

While the PIC's board has investigated those allegations and found them to be without merit, the UDM dismissed its findings as a "whitewash" and said a proper probe couldn't have been conducted while he remained in office. Mr. Matjila denied wrongdoing at the time the allegations first surfaced, telling Johannesburg's Sunday Times newspaper that he'd upset some politically influential people because he refused to authorize certain transactions that failed to meet investment criteria.

The National Treasury's media department didn't respond to calls or an email seeking comment. Deputy Finance Minister Mondli Gungubele chairs the PIC's board.