Following last week’s meeting between the country’s four halal issuing authorities to root out malpractice in the industry, all eyes are now on the Muslim Judicial Council (MJC) who has yet to take a decision on whether it would certify halal imports for Orion Cold Storage. Following revelations last month that imported products, such as pig hearts, had been relabeled as halal at its Cape Town premises, the company laid the blame on saboteurs, but stated that it would meet whatever criteria was set in order to secure renewed halal certification.
Orion CEO, Patrick Gaertner, has also made entreaties to both the MJC and other halal bodies to address any outstanding issues in an effort to recoup the huge losses his company has suffered in the wake of the scandal. However, on Tuesday VOC was told that the MJC has yet to make any decision regarding certification, after it summarily suspended its halal certification last month when the scandal was exposed. Thus far, the MJC executive has met on the matter on several occasions, but has yet to meet directly with Gaertner. VOC told that a final decision may be announced in the next day.
Meanwhile, there is mounting pressure – both from MJC members, as well as the halal bodies – for the ulema body not to recertify Orion. After the meeting of the four halal bodies, both the National Independent Halal Trust (NIHT) and South African National Halal Authority (Sanha) told VOC on Monday that it was critical that Orion not be allowed to trade in halal imports again.
“The massive fraud that was perpetrated against Muslims was absolutely horrific. It has angered both Muslims and non-Muslims alike, because besides the issue of halal and non-halal – which is at the heart of religious sensitivities for Muslims – what was done was completely unethical and illegal,” Maulana Saeed Navlakhi of Sanha told VOC’s Open Lines.
Sanha – who was one of the parties to win an interim order to prevent the re-labeling of imports at Orion – has been vocal in its disbelief about the sabotage claims which the company had blamed on the two whistleblowers. “It was an absolute slap in the face of the Muslim community that Mr Gaertner had the gall to request an audience at the meeting of the halal bodies to convince us (that all was above board). We don’t need any convincing,” Navlakhi stated.
“It is clear what had happened on Orion’s premises. If they say it is sabotage, that is something they must deal with, but this re-labeling had happened on a large scale with tons of products over a period of months, if not years. As such, the halal bodies on Thursday strongly emphasised that no halal body should even consider recertifying Orion.”
In a VOC online poll conducted this week, 74.4% of respondents felt that Orion should not be recertified as halal, while only 14% thought it should be allowed halal certification if it met the conditions. 7% was ambivalent and 4.7% did not care either way.
Navlakhi said it was also not enough for Orion to speak only to the MJC about recertification as it was advised when the halal bodies refused Gaertner permission to address them on Thursday. “This should be a unanimous decision by the halal bodies – to tell Orion that it is blacklisted for life. Anything else would amount to a slap on the wrist.”
However, there was no unanimous agreement on this point at Thursday’s meeting. The MJC indicated that its executive was still considering the matter, while the Islamic Council of South Africa (ICSA) was ambivalent and the NIHT largely agreed with Sanha’s position, but held that Orion needed to continue its talks with the MJC. “We feel that it is not appropriate to grant Orion halal certification, but then we were not responsible for the certification,” said NIHT spokesperson, Hafiz Murad Boolay.
“So we felt it was imperative for them to continue their talks with the MJC. It is now up to the MJC to look at what needs to be done. From the court documents it is clear that someone had gotten away with murder. There is talk about criminal charges for fraud, but I have real reservations on whether that will materialise. So the meeting strongly felt that recertification could not even be considered without major rehabilitation,” he said.