Dear Editor

Legal does not equate to ethical

I have taken a look at my investments to ensure that Investec does not feature… although my previous financial advisor was quite keen. In fact, your latest Investec/Randgold story illustrates well the difference between being ethical and being legal. Sies.

Pam Herr
Sun Valley

Ducking dignitary’s close shave

Your story on our crooked ex-Mayor Obed Mlaba reminds me: back in 2004 my regiment, the Natal Mounted Rifles, celebrated its 160th birthday and had a parade through Durban’s CBD.

Mlaba, as mayor, was to take the salute. A rehearsal was held the night before which Mlaba attended. As is usual, an armoured vehicle, when passing the saluting base, would traverse the turret towards the dais and lower its gun in a salute.

Mlaba had not been briefed on this and, as the first armoured car approached and performed the manoeuvre, HE DUCKED!!!

Ronald Coppin, Capt (Ret) NMR

With good reason! - Ed.

African Bank fallout

I am the CEO of a business that has provided Ellerines with soft furnishings for the past 20 years. We employ 420 people and use 80% South African products in producing recliner suites. Our only competitors are Chinese imports, but with the exchange rate at R8+ to the dollar, we are well placed to compete and supply home-grown furniture to local retailers.

Ellerines, for many years prior to being taken over by African Bank, managed their own debtors’ book very successfully, as do Lewis Stores, JD, House and Home and OK Furniture.

Now that Ellerines is in business rescue and likely to be liquidated, numerous suppliers will in all probability also be liquidated as a result of Ellerines’s unpaid debt. That, in turn, will result in severe job losses and retail furniture groups importing more Chinese products.

The Reserve Bank has intervened to  rescue African Bank. Who will intervene to rescue the furniture industry and prevent massive job losses? Where is the Department of Trade and Industry in all this?

Cecil Kagan

Houghton, Johannesburg

Too busy flying first class with the bankers to care. - Ed.

Tenant tyranny

Nightmare tenants plunging property owners into debt (nose178) is an everyday occurrence, thanks to legislation that is unjustly biased in favour of tenants.

I question the constitutionality of a law that requires private property owners to continue to provide accommodation, water and electricity to non-paying tenants, as this is the responsibility of the various levels of government, not private individuals.

Delinquent tenants should not be covered by the PIE Act [Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act]. By refusing to pay rent and refusing to move out they have effectively hijacked the property, with the government’s tacit consent. The government complains  that people don’t save enough, but when they do – and buy a second property to earn rental income – the government fails to protect their property rights.

Linda Horsfeld

Sandton, Johannesburg

‘Greed initiative’ at FNB

Seems the folks at FNB don’t really want to help their retail business clients. Not being happy with fees on cash deposits and withdrawals (like other banks), they have taken it further, introducing as of 1 July a fee on exchanging change!

As a retailer who has banked with FNB for more than 10 years – and who needs change to trade – I find this unacceptable and won’t be supporting their greed initiative. I’m moving to Nedbank which, like Absa and Standard, don’t charge clients for change.

“How can we help you?” For a start, stop ripping us off.  

William Cooper
Soon-to-be ex-FNB customer
Sandton, Johannesburg

Jack up, Mercedes-Benz

Having read the various contributions relating to Mercedes-Benz SA (noses171,173), I need to add my voice as a disgruntled client.

I had occasion to contact MBSA about a problem with my ML350CDI, bought new in September 2009.

While the technical merits of my complaint may be arguable, I do not believe they were even considered. (The car was out of warranty by a short period, but had been serviced religiously in accordance with my extended Mobilodrive Plan.)

However, what struck me was the offhand – verging on disdainful – manner in which they handled my complaint, which speaks volumes to me about the company.

Bill Scurr

Bergville, KwaZulu-Natal

Outrageous, reckless and dishonest ...

I have never addressed you in regard to previous articles which you have published about me or ENS as I do not rate Noseweek as credible and, consequently, not worthy of a serious response. But your July issue (nose177) was, even by your own lamentable standards, so outrageous that I and ENS have been persuaded to take the matter seriously.

I shall deal mainly with the Brakspear allegations. The Lewis “story” has been dealt with comprehensively in court proceedings and Lewis is nothing but a disgruntled debtor. There is no merit in it. As regards the Benjamin matter, you have not produced a shred of evidence to justify your statement that Sonnenbergs had a role in devising a fraud. The allegation is completely untrue.

Brakspear. Any reasonable person who applies his mind to[...] the various affidavits, would come to the view that West Dunes 5 (Pty) [Westdunes] was validly placed into provisional liquidation and thereafter in final liquidation.

No-one in their right mind would dare accuse you of being fanatical about the truth. Had you read the affidavits filed in Brakspear’s application for the setting aside of the liquidation order, you would have established the true facts with ease.

You deliberately chose to ignore what was said in answer to his wild allegations. [There] I explain exactly what happened at Court on 23 December 2008. And what was said by Attorney Scott, who together with Advocate S Alberts represented Brakspear’s company that day, could hardly have escaped your attention.

In her affidavit of 7 Oct 2013, Scott says: “Prior to the provisional Liquidation order having been granted, I telephoned [Brakspear] from the Court building to inform him that despite us opposing the merits, it would be to the advantage of Westdunes to consent to the Order as it would mean that the liquidators could resile from the sale by auction to Zambrotti Investments 35 of the property… for the sum of R18 million, and accept another offer from Applemint Properties 9  for R25.2m. [He] readily agreed and the order was granted on this basis. At all times, we continued to maintain that Westdunes was not indebted to [the Westley Trust] in the liquidation matter.”

Your failure to have regard to the affidavit of Brakspear’s own attorney, which records the same events related in my affidavit (also confirmed, on oath, by two counsel acting for the applicants) was, at best, reckless and, at worst, dishonest.

As is plain from Scott’s affidavit, Brakspear consented to the grant of the provisional liquidation order.

You write that “There is a great deal more evidence to support Brakspear’s claim that the alleged R7m loan by the Wesley Trust is part of a deliberate fraud.” And further that “There is no evidence in any bank record of such a loan amount having been either paid or received at about the date of the alleged loan.”

In the application by the liquidators for authority to sell the farm, Brakspear filed an affidavit dated 11 Feb 2009 in which he stated:

“I am also a beneficiary of JAM Brakspear Trust which is likewise a substantial creditor of Westdunes.”

You appear to have carefully ignored what Brakspear himself had to say about the R7m loan. In his answering affidavit in the liquidation proceedings against Westdunes he says:

“It is self-evident that no indebtedness exists on the part of [Westdunes] to the Wesley Trust and that the JAM Brakspear Trust was the entity that advanced the funds and repaid the £500,000 to Fairbairn Private Bank.”

Brakspear’s complaint is that, according to him, the loan was advanced by the JAM Brakspear Trust and not the Wesley Trust. Brakspear admits the advance. It is the identity of the creditor which is disputed by Brakspear.

ENS acted for both the Wesley Trust and the JAM Brakspear Trust. It is for this reason that the JAM Brakspear Trust [then] intervened in the [final] liquidation proceedings. It was a conditional application which was brought to deal with Brakspear’s contention that JAM Brakspear Trust was the creditor.

As Brakspear consented to the [later] final [liquidation] order at the instance of the Wesley Trust, the intervention application [to substitute the JAM Brakspear Trust as the applicant for the liquidation] was not proceeded with. Once again, you do not even mention that Brakspear’s attorney and counsel were actually in Court on 5 Feb 2009, the return day of the provisional liquidation order. [There is] a transcript of what was said in Court before Judge Gorven. Once again, Westdunes recorded [its consent to the grant of a final liquidation order] so there was no need to proceed with the application to intervene.

In the circumstances, your allegations that the loan was “part of a deliberate fraud” and that there is “no evidence… of such a loan amount having been either paid or received” are false.

Your allegation that I “immediately negotiated (my) R1m bonus fee…” is outrageous, reckless and dishonest. You have not produced a shred of evidence to substantiate it.

I do not propose dealing with the further allegations contained in the July Noseweek. All of my rights and those of ENS and our clients are strictly reserved.

Your statements that I am a “fraud salesman”, that I am the “man who stole justice”, that ENS is “ruthlessly dishonest”, that ENS has a “culture of impunity and shameful disregard for justice”, that I charge “aggressive fees” and that my plan “was to fraudulently manufacture a debt with which to liquidate Brakspear’s” company are false and defamatory.

Furthermore, you lack any form of decency. Your scandalous “mental slip of the clutch” in the June Noseweek  to confuse me with an alleged paedophile was, at the very least, completely unprofessional. Had you a shred of decency, you would have apologised to me.

I have no doubt that a defamation action against you would succeed. I am also advised that I am entitled to lay criminal charges as the defamation by you has been so grotesque.

The only issue is whether you and Noseweek are worth the effort.

Leonard Katz
Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs
Cape Town

The Editor’s reply

Thank you for your letter. Now, at last, the discussion can begin.

On Lewis: our view is substantiated by the factual information related in our reports. Lewis is disgruntled, with reason. That he is by now somewhat manic is simply a measure of his desperation after being thwarted for years in his search for justice.

The Benjamin case – and Sonnenbergs’ role in it – is fully documented. We have a complete transcript of the evidence led. Benjamin’s personal testimony about his dealings with Sonnenbergs was not contested. While Sonnenbergs may not have devised the fraudulent scheme, they certainly condoned it with full knowledge – and paid Benjamin R2.1 million in damages when it all went wrong. Why deny it now? The evidence was well summarised in

On Brakspear: I am not fanatical about anything, although I am committed to establishing the truth, as I would have hoped you are. I have seriously applied my mind to the affidavits you refer to, and a great deal of other evidence besides, and remain firmly of the view that the company was not validly put into either provisional or final liquidation, and that the prime purpose of the liquidation application was a twofold fraud: a fraud on the court to enable a fraud on the original buyer of the company’s farm.

You and attorney Scott have said many, conflicting, things – in writing and at different times – about what supposedly happened at court on 23 December 2008. Critical to the case, whatever the truth in theory might be: no uncontested, authoritative, independent court record exists of an order relating to the case that the court might have issued on that day.

As I write, a case is being tried in the Durban high court in which, for better or worse, all these matters are up for deliberation. I have been following the proceedings closely and plan to report extensively on the case and how it was conducted in our next issue.

What I can already say is that it made for a nauseating display of inequality in the administration of justice. It brought to mind nothing so much as an emaciated Christian professing his faith while being fed to the lions in a Roman arena, with the Roman consul hurrying the process on to its horrifying conclusion.

In short, so far, we stand by our story.

On one point we do immediately admit our error – as we did when we became aware of it. That was the use, halfway through a story in
nose176, of Mr Katz’s name instead of Leonard Kaplan, a Bishops schoolmaster who we had already identified as having been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with minors. We corrected the error at the first possible opportunity. We do still owe Mr Katz a proper apology, which I tender here, unreservedly. As unlikely as he might find it, no malice was intended. No reader that I am aware of failed to detect it as an error. – Ed

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