Astra Paints loses case against employee fired for misusing company’s US$360k 

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By Mary Taruvinga

A leading paint manufacturer, Astra Paints Holdings Limited (Astra Paints) has lost a case against its former employee, Adrian Chulu who was fired after he misused U$359 696.68 company funds.

The company had approached the court seeking to interdict Chulu who is going through a divorce from awarding his wife high-end vehicles, houses and household goods in divorce proceedings.

This was after it emerged that Chulu had no valuable assets to his name with all property being awarded to his wife and minor child.

Astra Paints through its lawyers questioned the timing of the divorce and what it alleged was the haste to finalise this action.

The applicant further contended that Chulu’s consent paper which “purports to give away all assets to his wife, cited as the second respondent in the court papers, and their minor child, including two immovable properties and two vehicles, leaving the first respondent with absolutely no assets of value to his name” was part of an illegal scheme for the first respondent to avoid execution of any judgment that may be issued against him in the action matter and to put it as stated in the certificate of urgency “to conceal the proceeds of crime and run ring the justice system.”

However, High Court judge Justice Regis Dembure found no weight in Astra Paints’ application before he struck it off the roll.

“I hasten to say that from what was placed before me I did not find any good reason to warrant this court having to question the legitimacy of the divorce process instituted in terms of the law.

“The first respondent (Chulu) has already alienated or ceded his rights or interests in the assets to the second respondent and the minor.

“The court cannot be asked to intervene on an urgent basis to stop or prohibit what has already taken place lawfully,” he said.

The court also took judicial notice of the fact that Chulu’s wife is equally entitled to the protection of the law.

“She is not a party to the action pending under Case No. HCH 1349/24.

“She satisfactorily explained how the assets were acquired in the first place.

“She has nothing to do with the first respondent’s misdemeanours and cannot be used as a sacrificial lamb in the fight between the applicant and the first respondent.

“I am not persuaded that the applicant will suffer any irreparable harm if this court fails to intervene on an urgent basis.

“There is no urgency in this case, as the assets which the applicant seeks to preserve have already been alienated lawfully to parties not involved in the pending action Case No. HCH1349/24,” said the judge before striking off the matter off the roll.

Chulu was employed by Astra Paints as its Financial Accountant from 2002.

On 21 November 2023, he was dismissed following a disciplinary hearing held in his absence.

The acts of misconduct Chulu was convicted of were that during the period extending from 1 May 2022 to 31 October 2023, he had defrauded the company by fraudulently and unlawfully transferring the company funds to some named third parties purportedly for payment of fictitious invoices.

The total prejudice suffered by the applicant was about U$359 696.68.

This was revealed by the forensic audit carried out by external auditors for the relevant period which was attached to the application.

On 8 March 2024, Astra Paints had a summons issued in the High Court against Chulu under Case No. HCH 1349/24 wherein it claimed payment of US$198 279.50 and a further US$161 417.18 or alternatively, ZWL$166 682 630.00 as restitution of funds he allegedly defrauded the company.

Chulu is defending the claim and the matter is pending set down for a pre-trial conference.

Meanwhile, Cleolla Chulu who is married to Chulu had a summons issued in the High Court for a decree of divorce and other ancillary relief under Case No. HCHF 976/24.

While opposing the current application Cleolla stated that she had not lived with Chulu as husband and wife since 2018.

It is common cause that on 17 June 2024, the couple signed a consent paper agreeing to the divorce and distributed their matrimonial property in terms thereof.

The matter was initially set down for hearing and determination on the unopposed roll in the Family Division of this court on 27 June 2024.

Astra Paints then stated that it discovered through its legal practitioners on 24 June 2024 that Chulu and his wife were “purportedly divorcing”.

This then raised suspicions on the timing of the divorce resulting in the application which has just been struck off the roll.

The assets in question are as set out in the draft interim order sought which include the Crowhill and Caledonia stands, two motor vehicles and household goods.

Cleolla successfully argued that the assets were part of their matrimonial estate which they had since alienated or distributed.