South African fishing giant Oceana Group has appointed an interim chief financial officer (CFO) following a period of recent upheaval at the group.

Former Irvin and Johnson (I&J) executive Ralph Buddle was appointed to the role on Feb. 23, according to a statement from the company.

"The appointment is subject to the outcome of the pending process pertaining to the current CFO," it added.

The former CFO, Hajra Karrim, was placed on a "precautionary" suspension earlier in February after Oceana delayed publication of its annual results on several occasions.

The following week, the group’s CEO, Imraan Soomra, abruptly resigned.

The departure of Soomra and the suspension of CFO Karrim followed several delays in Oceana’s latest financial results after “queries” raised by a whistleblower prompted the company to undertake an independent investigation.

The questions predominantly related to "the accounting treatment of matters pertaining to a United States subsidiary” -- namely the group’s 25 percent shareholding in Westbank Fishing -- which is held by Daybrook Fisheries Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of Oceana.

In addition to his financial roles at I&J, Buddle also previously served as a senior finance executive and director of business development and strategy at Woolworths Holdings Limited.

Further investigations

Meanwhile, on Feb. 21 -- a week after Soomra’s departure -- Oceana was informed by the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) that it was investigating "whether any person may have published false, misleading or deceptive statements, promises and forecasts regarding the past or future performance of the company, or its securities.”

Oceana said it has not yet been advised of the details of the investigation but will cooperate fully with the FSCA.

In a further update on Friday Feb. 25, Oceana said ENSafrica Forensics’ independent forensic investigation is expected to be completed on March 4.

After the investigation is finalized, the auditors should be able to complete the review and audit procedures, with the provisional report slated to be released by March 9.

The annual financial statements of the company for the year ended Sept. 30, 2021 will then be released by March 25, it said.

“The current CFO remains on precautionary suspension pending a disciplinary process,” said Oceana.

“A grievance has been lodged by the CFO in relation to the suspension and a disciplinary process is also pending.”

The company declined to provide further details at this stage.

Additionally, Oceana noted that at the time of Soomra’s resignation, it had already started -- but not completed -- a process with the CEO “to deal with certain of the matters which related to the latter’s conduct and which had been investigated or arose during the investigations conducted by ENSafrica Forensics.”

However, it added the CEO’s reasons for resigning when he did are personal to the CEO and Oceana cannot speak for him, but the company is of the view that the CEO’s actions and reasons for his resignation "did not result in financial losses to the company nor did it directly contribute to the inability of the company to publish its financial information in a timely manner."

Based on the preliminary feedback received from ENSafrica Forensics, no current or former employees are likely to be implicated in any matters resulting in financial loss to the company, Oceana added, and none of the matters considered as part of the investigation is likely to result in a financial loss to the company.

In addition, the investigation did not identify any evidence of fraud or criminal conduct, the company stressed.