Legal hanky-panky at Master's office

It is widely believed in legal circles that bribery and corruption pervade the Master’s office, the division of the Department of Justice that deals with deceased estates and insolvencies.

Tamsanqa Moya’s two buses plied the 860km run between Johannesburg and Bulawayo, Zimbabwe – a nice little business. Until, that is, he decided to expand his fleet with the addition of two luxury coaches from China, 55-seaters, with reclining seats and air conditioning that would take his business to a new level.

 Tamsanqa Moya

The deal was arranged by a 53-year-old Joburg businessman Mahomed Saloojee who represented a close coroporation owned by his wife which supplied Combis to the taxi industry. “Tami” Moya paid R1.3 million for the coaches into the cc’s account at FNB. But when he contacted Shenyang Brilliance Jinbei Automobile in Shenyang five months later regarding progress on his order, he was shattered to be told that the Chinese company does not make coaches and they had not received his R1.3m.

On 28 March 2014 default judgment was granted against Saloojee by Judge Willem Wepener in the South Gauteng High Court for R12.2m (the lost coach money plus R11m damages for loss of future earnings).

Twelve days later, when the sheriff arrived at Saloojee’s Johannesburg South home in Winchester Hills to attach property, it was to learn that Saloojee had placed himself in voluntary sequestration the previous October, in 2013. Saloojee’s insolvent estate was now under the control of provisional trustees and no attachments could be made.

As one major creditor owed R12.2m, Moya expected that in due course the trustees would sell Saloojee’s house and, after any bond was settled, he would get at least something back. But two years after sequestration there had still been no first meeting of creditors and little progress on the winding up of Saloojee’s estate. That is in the hands of Pretoria-based Cassim Trust, headed by Zaheer Cassim, a business- rescue expert and well-known liquidator of insolvent estates.

It has now emerged that just three days before Judge Wepener’s default judgment against Mahomed Saloojee in March 2014, the Cassim trustees had signed an agreement of sale to sell the Winchester Hills property – to Saloojee’s 23-year-old daughter Razeena.

Razeena Saloojee had acquired her father’s home – a handsome property with four bedrooms and three bathrooms in the pleasant Joburg South suburb of Winchester Hills – for what seemed to Moya to be a knockdown price of R1.1m. A year previously it had been valued at R1.75m for a forced sale, and its current value is put at R2.4m.

Alarm bells rang in the office of Moya’s attorney, Tendayi Mudenda. Mudenda explains that to sell a property in an insolvent estate before the Second Meeting of Creditors is a “drastic procedure that requires motivation to the satisfaction of the Master of the High Court. The Master must scrutinise any such offer and be satisfied that it protects the interests of all the creditors”.

To satisfy himself that all was in order Mudenda called the Master’s Office, where clerk Mavis Nkuna told him the Saloojee file was “untraceable”. The following month Mudenda spoke to Deputy Master Reuben Maphaha, head of the Liquidations and Insolvency section. “He confirmed that they were unable to locate the file,” says Mudenda.

Zaheer Cassim

By now Moya had filed a high court action against provisional trustees Zaheer Cassim and Thabiso Moleko; Mahomed Saloojee and daughter Razeena; and the Master of the High Court seeking that the trustees be removed and the house sale declared improper and therefore null and void.

At the Discovery of  Documents stage, the Master’s Office produced a copy of the long-lost file No G1269/2013. It made bizarre reading.

Cassim Trust’s application to the Master for consent to make an urgent sale of the house was dated 17 April 2014. It made no mention of the March R12.2m default judgment against the house’s owner. It merely stated that Saloojee’s estate was sequestrated on 25 October 2013, that the interest on the house’s R1.15m bond was increasing daily, and its sale was in the general interest of all creditors.

The letter included Standard Bank’s consent to sell the property, a valuation and a blank Consent, in duplicate, for the Master’s signature.

Two things aroused the suspicions of Moya and his attorney. The Consent form carrying the Master’s stamp dated 24 April 2014 had an indecipherable signature. And the valuation report, with a forced-sale valuation of R1.1m, was dated 18 January 2016 – 21 months after its supposed submission by Cassim Trust.

Last June 48-year-old Tamsanqa Moya visited the office of Assistant Master Matome Moshoma in the Liquidations and Insolvency Section. “He said that Saloojee’s file No G1269/2013 had been under his control, but went missing,” says Moya. It was Moshoma,  he adds, who revealed who had signed the controversial Conset to Sell. The Master's stamp on the consent form bears the number 36. This, Mashoma told Moya, identified its holder as another Assistant Master, Pamela Dube.

But when Dube stamped the consent form, said Assistant Master Moshoma, she wasn’t working in the Liquidations section (on the 7th floor of the Master’s Office at 66 Marshall Street, Joburg). She was working in Trusts and Curatorship, (down on the 3rd floor).

“There’s something really fishy going on here,” Moshoma allegedly told Moya. “This girl was not in my department when she stamped this letter.”

Deputy Master Reuben Maphaha, head of Liquidations and Insolvency, subsequently confirmed that Dube was only moved to his section as of 3 August 2015.

In her brief responding affidavit in court papers Assistant Master Dube says the application to sell the Winchester Hills property was brought to her attention by the provisional trustees, with supporting documentation.

“It was not unlawful to authorise the provisional trustees to sell the property and the sale was in line with the valuation report,” she says.

The Master has supplied Moya’s attorney with an explosive memo from Deputy Master Maphaha to Leonard Pule, Master of the South Gauteng High Court. Dated 6 July last year it begins: “The purpose of this memorandum is to inform the Master of the fraud committed by Ms Dube when authorising the sale of the immovable property in the insolvent estate Saloojee, and for the Master to cause a forensic investigation to be conducted against the action of Ms Dube.

The Consent to Sell was authorised by Dube with stamp number 36 and the memo adds that “Ms Dube was in Trust section during the period in which the consent was granted”.

“Furthermore, it was noticed that the evaluation report is dated 18 January 2016, which raises suspicions as to the correct date upon which the consent was granted.”

Deputy Master Maphaha’s memo recommends “that the matter be investigated and disciplinary proceedings be instituted against the said official, together with enquiring as to the conduct of the Joint Provisional Trustees to ascertain if there were no fraudulent activities conducted”.

Last November a justice department official told Moya’s attorney Tendayi Mudenda that “the investigation was finalised and the forensic report was distributed to the relevant internal stakeholders.”

And Martin Mafojane, Chief Director (Coastal Operations and Insolvency projects) at the Department of Justice has told Mudenda: “Our departmental Forensic Unit reports are not available for public consumption. These are not shared with outsiders. You are advised to work through the Deputy Information Officer in terms of the Access to Information Act.”

A fruitless exercise for Tamsanqa Moya, the complainant in this case – and out of pocket to the tune of R12.2m, which has now risen to around R20m with compounded interest. Access to Information applicants are also handled by the Department of Justice, whose Deputy Information Officer, Ms ND Louw, told Mudenda in December that his application for access to the forensic report had been refused. “No decision in the exercise of a power or performance of a duty has taken place as yet and the release of the record would be premature, resulting in the frustration of the operation of the Department.” 

The R1.1m “forced sale” valuation for the Winchester Hills property was done by Pretoria valuer Anrie Erasmus, who tells Noseweek that she has done nine valuations for Cassim Trust since 2013, but has never met Zaheer Cassim.

Asked to explain how her 2016 report came to be attached to the 2014 application to sell to the Master’s Office, Erasmus says: “I received a request from Frieda Roets from Cassim Trust in January 2016. When I did a Lightstone property search I saw the owner/buyer was Razeena Saloojee. I contacted Frieda and told her that the property had a new owner. She asked me to do a valuation on the previous owner’s name [Mahomed Saloojee] for the period of 2014.”

In other words, the valuation that gives the impression it was made to support the Master’s decision to allow the property to be sold to Razeena Saloojee for R1.1m in 2014 was indeed created in January 2016 and only recently inserted by someone into the Master’s file.

Tamsanqa Moya’s bus business collapsed after the above events and he’s now producing vegetables and chickens from a plot near Krugersdorp.

Assistant Master Pamela Dube did not respond to our request for comment.

Mahomed Saloojee’s attorney Patrick Payne of Leahy Attorneys says: “The questions posed under cover of your letter concerns a factual circumstance which is presently still to be adjudicated upon by a court of law. Sensitised to the aforesaid, we regard it inappropriate for the facts (which are still to be pronounced upon as aforesaid) and issues concerning the pending litigation to be ventilated in a public forum, and particularly in the media, until such time as the pending litigation has been finalised.”

• Last year Justice Minister Michael Masutha reported to the National Assembly that Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng had expressed concern over fraudulent court orders and the misuse of court stamps.

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