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Airlink and SAA Embroiled in Corporate Espionage Allegations

Published March 18, 2024
2 months ago

South African Airways (SAA), recently navigating through a phase of unprivatization, finds itself amidst allegations of possessing confidential commercial information of its competitor, Airlink. These events have raised significant concerns over legal and ethical conduct within the country’s aviation sector.

Airlink, a regional airline with a broad network across South Africa and the continent, confirmed that the confidential information—which delineates vital business relationships and financial dealings with travel agencies and consortia—was indeed proprietary to their operations. Rodger Foster, Airlink's CEO, highlighted the "highly commercially sensitive" nature of the information, which was only disclosed to Airlink upon an inquiry by The Citizen.

The controversy has deepened with the involvement of Carla da Silva, SAA’s marketing and sales general manager and former Airlink employee. The Citizen obtained an email from October 29, 2023, where Da Silva, despite still being under Airlink’s employ, seemingly shared sensitive data with prospective SAA colleagues, recommending integration into SAA's database. The subsequent confirmation by Airlink of this document's ownership has escalated the situation, prompting an investigation into a potential breach of the Cybercrimes Act of 2022.

This Act, as informed by Cape Town-based law firm DKVG, criminalizes unauthorized data access, cyber extortion, fraud, and the theft of intangible property. Violations could lead to severe legal penalties, including hefty fines and imprisonment up to 15 years.

Forensic investigator Chad Thomas has accentuated the gravity of the situation by classifying it as potential industrial espionage, given the nature of the theft involving trade secrets and client lists.

The unfolding scenario has compounded with allegations of SAA’s unethical recruitment practices, as another whistle-blower has implicated Da Silva and SAA in a jobs-for-pals scheme, supposedly enlisting former Airlink marketing employees at SAA without proper recruitment protocols.

Questions directed at SAA, specifically to acting chief executive Prof John Lamola, have received no response regarding the allegations of job reservations and possession of proprietary information.

As these allegations add up, demanding thorough investigation, Airlink grapples with the implications of the events and society watches closely for the outcomes that could redefine corporate conduct within South Africa’s aviation industry.

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