When the safety container was opened, the gold Roman coin collection was gone.
Who opened Safety Deposit Box number 47 in a Nedbank security vault and plundered a collection of gold Roman and early Briton coins? And why after three years of promises has Nedbank failed to produce the results of its investigation into the theft?
Could this be because the evidence points to the thief being a trusted Nedbank employee? And that, to conceal an embarrassing “inside job” – and a possible big settlement payout – the bank has been deliberately spinning out its investigation until the time limitation for claim and blame expires?
The lost collection, said to be worth more than R600,000, was the lifetime work of Roger Everatt, an eccentric electrical engineer, numismatist and sea-loving adventurer who died in 1994, aged 72. The coins were inherited by his only son, Wits professor David Everatt.
|Professor David Everatt with wife Wits Law Professor Cathi Albertyn and children Jonathan,19 and Josie, 21|
The case illustrates how large institutions with deep pockets can use prescription to avoid their obligations. Prescription in this case runs for three years from the date the debt arose – in this case, early June 2014, when the box theft was revealed. If Prof Everatt did not interrupt prescription by issuing summons within three years, the debt would fall away, leaving the bank no longer liable.
For years Everatt hoped that the bank’s investigation would yield a settlement offer. And Nedbank has played along, with a string of “the-report’s-on-the-way” promises that failed to materialise.
The story revolves around Everatt’s father, a remarkable Brit who began his engineering studies at the University of Manchester when he was only 16. Roger Everatt served as a Second World War lieutenant in the Royal Navy and got his first sight of South Africa when posted to Port Elizabeth to install new sonar technology on the British fleet there.
A ferocious sportsman – he played hockey for the navy – Everatt crewed a 28ft yacht that was shipwrecked on the rocks of Tristan da Cunha on a voyage from Brazil. He contracted polio on the remote south Atlantic island. Back in South Africa, confined to crutches and a wheelchair, he poured his considerable energy into amassing a formidable coin collection and wine cellar.
At first the coins were kept at the family’s Joburg home. In Roger Everatt’s will, made just weeks before his death, the ZAR and South African portion was left to his grandson Raoul; the Portuguese and Commonwealth went to second grandson Marc.
Everatt’s son Professor David Everatt was bequeathed: “My fishing boat picture by Errol Boyley, my three antique pewter mugs in my study and my collection of English and Channel Island coins”.
Not a word about the golden prize – the valuable Roman and early Briton collection – or who was to get it. “He kept the gold out of his will to keep the taxman at bay,” explains 55-year-old David Everatt. “But the very rare stuff, which was in the bank, was always coming to me and that had always been understood.”
It was only when going through his father’s papers after his death – he held power of attorney – that Everatt discovered the existence of boxes 46 and 47 at Nedbank.
Prof Everatt’s parents divorced when he was 12 and to avoid military service he went to the UK to live with his mother. But his elder sisters, Mary and Susan, grew up here with their father’s coin collection around them. Which could prove pivotal evidence should the very existence of the elusive Roman hoard be challenged.
“I was interested in Roman and early British history and my father did show it to me,” says sister Mary Fouche. “Sue and I attended coin sales at Springbok Auctions that Dad hosted due to his expertise.
“I don’t really know when he started using a safety box. I vaguely remember him saying that he needed to start keeping the Roman stuff at the bank for safekeeping when we moved to Bramley.”
Confirms Prof Everatt: “My entire family knew of the existence of the gold Roman and early Briton collection. All of us had seen the old man filing them, looking at them.”
Some of the “less valuable” Roman coins, says Everatt, remained at the Bramley house and after his father’s death he sold these, as he recalls, through London auctioneers Seaby’s, for around R55,000.
Nedbank’s Box 46 – which was untouched – contained about 20 Krugerrands and required two keys to open it – one held by the bank, the other by the customer. Box 47 – the one with the gold coins – was of shallow construction and called a share certificate box. It only required one key to open it, this key being held by the customer. It only emerged later that the bank held a spare.
Everatt says that when he last saw the Roman and early Briton collection, both boxes were at Nedbank’s branch in Hyde Park. “I think I went there twice. I took some stuff out and added stuff in. My view was, they’re safety deposit boxes. They’re safe, they’re out of sight, out of mind. That’s how I treat them.
“I didn’t create a list of every coin, although ironically each of them was labelled within the plastic sleeve. I just left them there so that when I peg it my kids will get them.”
Five years ago, without the family being notified, Nedbank moved boxes 46 and 47 to a new vault at Nedbank head office in Sandton. The first that Everatt knew of it was when, early in June 2014, he received a call from the bank informing him that his box had been found opened and summoning him to Sandton. “Box 47 was all taped up with their security tape. We took the tape off. The box hadn’t been forced open, it was just unlocked.
“Nedbank’s regional manager was there and he told me they were centralising their security box system. His job was to go to lots of little dorps where people had safety deposit boxes, collect them, and bring them in.
“He was telling me horror stories about boxes being found in all sorts of condition. Some had been forced open and others they had no idea who they belonged to. Apparently there’s a law that says they can’t open them for 100 years to try and find out who the beneficiaries are.”
Photographs were taken of the open Box 47 with its remaining contents.
As well as the regional manager, says Everatt, bank officials present included the manager of the safety box section and the bank’s investigator. “They asked me if I’d left the box open. I said ‘Are you being serious?’ They said they would do an investigation – including examination of CCTV footage covering the boxes – and get back to me and would I please shut up while they did this. Which seemed perfectly reasonable. I wasn’t out to embarrass Nedbank. If they could find out who did it, fine.”
Five months after the theft was revealed Everatt’s attorneys wrote a letter claiming R602,110 for the loss: ten pages from Roger Everatt’s coin album containing gold coins from Roman and early Briton eras (conservative estimated value R400,000);full sets of “mint coins” from 1966 to 1994 (value R2,110) and a tin of more Roman and Briton coins in individual plastic sleeves (conservative value R200,000).
After this demand, Everatt noted that the bank’s questions were becoming increasingly hostile: Had he reported the theft to SAPS? Why was the matter not pursued further after the box was opened? Who was in the room when you came to the bank? Why did you give them your key?
“I didn’t give anyone my key! It was on my key ring,” says Everatt. “They had a spare key for Box 47 and that was how the thief opened the box.”
As for the bank’s long-awaited report, Nedbank’s Executive Service Support Consultant Sean de Necker, provided an infuriating litany of delay:
• November 8, 2016: “We are in the process of finalising our response.”
• March 9 2017: “This matter has been referred to our Legal Adviser and we will revert in due course with a formal response.”
• March 30: “We will ensure that the formal response is provided no later than Monday 3 April 2017.”
• April 11: “We regret having to inform you that we have not formalised our response in view of Professor Everatt’s claim against Nedbank. We have been consulting to attain agreement, but are still divided. Please may I request your favourable consideration to provide us with additional time until Wednesday 19 April.”
• April 12: We are pleased to inform you that during our meeting it was decided to embark on a formal internal audit… We anticipate to complete said audit no later than Monday 5 June.”
• April 26: “We understand the urgency to finalise this matter and assure you it is not our intention to prolong it any longer than what is absolutely necessary.”
• May 18: “Our internal investigation has now been completed and the designated investigator will compile the formal report. Once completed, the report will be vetted by our Senior Legal Adviser. We will then discuss the outcome of the investigation with the relevant decision makers, and thereafter provide a formal response to you in view of the claim. It is anticipated that our formal response will be communicated to you by no later than Monday 19 June.”
However, by June 19 the claim would have prescribed, leaving Everatt with no further claim against Nedbank. Which explains why, though loath to embark on years of costly litigation, the 55-year-old academic moved to interrupt prescription by issuing a R602,110 high court summons against Nedbank, served with just days to spare on May 29.
With no inventory of the rare Roman collection, no insurance and no mention of it in Roger Everatt’s will, the family’s challenge is not only to prove that it was kept in Box 47, but that it existed at all. However, David Everatt, married to Wits law professor Cathi Albertyn, has an impressive CV and should prove a convincing witness.
After a DPhil in modern African history at Oxford he returned to South Africa where he was a founder partner of Strategy and Tactics, now one of the country’s leading development agencies. He’s published six books and managed or participated in more than 250 development projects. He conducted ground-breaking research into youth marginalisation and out-of-school youth and his research into political violence was quoted by Nelson Mandela in a speech to the UN.
These days he heads the University of the Witwatersrand’s prestigious School of Governance, whose certificate, diploma and degree courses in governance, policy-making and the like are much in demand from candidates ranging from MPs and councillors of all parties to gun-toting taxi operators. Floyd Shivambu, deputy president of the Economic Freedom Fighters, has just signed up for a PhD.
Says the prof: “I’m not trying to fuck Nedbank over for money. If they’d led with ‘oh shit, look what happened, we’re really sorry’, I’d probably have walked away. But they wanted to fight it rather than acknowledge their culpability, and I can’t stand that kind of cowardice. My ‘loss’ is of considerably less interest to me than their indifference and moral turpitude.”
Nedbank’s Head of Client Experience & Business Risk Doug Hardie comments: “The bank is denying any liability and will defend the matter. Nedbank denies that it committed to provide Everatt with a final investigation report, but rather that it was anticipated that Nedbank would formally respond regarding the outcome of Nedbank’s investigation by no later than 19 June 2017.
“Due to the latter, and since summons was served on Nedbank on 29 May 2017, the matter is now considered to be in litigation and any further communications exchanged will be between the parties’ legal representatives. With regards to any allegation of causing delays, we wish to point to the fact that Prof Everatt had in fact delayed the finalisation of Nedbank’s investigation by failing for a period of 22 months (November 2014 to September 2016) to provide information requested by Nedbank.”
Edrich Buytendorp, acting Ombudsman for Banking Services, comments: “When renting a safety deposit box from the bank, the bank does not know what will be placed inside the box and does not assume any responsibility for any loss of its contents. Even if the consumer can prove that the bank was negligent or some other staff intervention can be proven, the consumer would still need to prove what was inside the safety deposit box to have a successful claim.
“Each matter will of course be assessed on its own merits and should the customer be able to prove staff involvement AND what was inside the box, our office would make the necessary recommendation against the bank to refund.
“We are not aware of any court case where a bank was successfully sued for the contents of a safety deposit box being stolen or lost.”
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