Attorney who finds himself in hot water pretends to kick the bucket so his life insurance can fund a future in Mauritius.
It is the sort of story that myths and legends are built upon; a bizarre country tale with a serious twist. Residents of the close-knit town of Vryheid in northern KwaZulu-Natal are still seething over their “betrayal” by one of the town’s finest sons – a farmer’s boy who after studying at varsity returned home in 2015 to set up a law practice to serve the community.
Jan Adriaan Venter’s fall from grace has been spectacular.
|Jan Adriaan Venter|
After faking his own death – apparently to avoid the disgrace of being struck from the roll of attorneys for stealing close-to R9 million from his clients’ trust accounts and the likelihood that he would also face serious criminal charges – he was nabbed by police six months later, having been hiding out in a flat on Durban’s beachfront.
There was an added bonus to the faked death scheme: along with his fiancée, Rozanne Prinsloo, the pair had apparently concocted a scheme to defraud Liberty Life out of R25m by claiming his (recently increased) life insurance and they were on their way to King Shaka International Airport, intent on fleeing the country.
“While he is rarely seen, he is still haunting this town after his resurrection,” one resident told Noseweek.
Said another: “This is a small town, people talk a lot of kak... but this time they weren’t.”
Venter’s parents had been well-respected in the community; his dad Frik is a farmer, his mom Renata is a teacher. They are churchgoers.
Venter was a star swimmer for the school he attended in Durban.
News of his death was first announced by the local Vryheid Herald on July 26, 2017. Under a picture of a burning candle (but presciently placed in the “entertainment” section of the paper), Pierre Rousseau of Property Time Real Estate, a close friend and business associate, confirmed that Venter had passed away but said the “circumstances are being investigated”. He asked that the family be given time and space to grieve.
Venter, Rousseau was quoted saying, was a hard working attorney always prepared to go that extra mile for his clients. The Herald expressed its condolences to Venter’s family and loved ones.
But rumours were soon swirling around the town. Some residents had heard he had been hijacked in KwaMashu and decapitated. Others were told that he had committed suicide. The Vryheid Herald reported that his parents had confirmed that he died from a heart attack and his body had been cremated.
The memorial service was packed. “We all attended the funeral. We all cried. We felt so bad for his mom and dad, they were devastated... heartbroken. His sister even flew out from Australia. But I was puzzled that Rozanne seemed so calm. I assumed she was on some medication,” one attendee told The Witness.
Others spoke of the memorial service being a “bland affair”, with family members saying nothing about their memories of him and only friends and colleagues getting up to speak.
What few knew at that stage was that the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society had already discovered Venter to be a fraudster – that “he had been robbing Peter to pay Paul since 2016” and that millions of rands were missing from the attorney’s trust account. (So much for the clients for whom he walked the extra mile.)
A week before Venter “died” the society had secured an interim court order barring him from practising. In their report to the court, Law Society investigators noted how Venter had been “sweating profusely” under interrogation – on an exceptionally cold day.
Vryheid Herald reporter Estella Naicker’s suspicions were aroused the day before his supposed death when the paper received a call from a police officer informing them that Venter’s anxious family had reported him missing. Before they could publish this, however, they received another call to say the family, in the meantime, had received a call from him reassuring them that he was alive and well.
Next came all the different accounts of how he had died: murdered in a robbery; decapitated, suicide, a heart attack… and a rather hasty (supposed) cremation.
Venter had already got tongues wagging in the town over the fancy house he had just bought.
Naicker reported in the Herald: “Established and respected attorneys practising in Vryheid could never understand how Adriaan was doing extravagantly well financially after being in practice for such a short period of time.
“Then it was discovered, just before his death, that millions of rands in trust money had gone missing. A damning report was compiled for the Law Society by Newcastle-based DBM Attorneys. In the report, Venter was described as a flight risk. Based on the findings, he was suspended from practising law and preliminarily debarred.
His demise came at a time that seemed too opportune and the details just didn’t add up.
Reporter Naicker phoned various police stations in the KwaMashu area. None had any report in their occurrence books of a white male being found dead in his car in KwaMashu. She phoned all the crematoriums in the region but none had cremated the body of a man called Jan Adriaan Venter.
We all attended the funeral. We all cried. We felt so bad for his mom and dad, they were devastated...
The death certificate, issued by the Department of Home Affairs in KwaDukuza (formerly Stanger) became the focus of the investigation. It cited that Venter had died from “natural causes” in KwaMashu.
|Story featured in Vryheid Herald|
The Herald was on to something. It reported: “We then discovered that Adriaan had been acting suspiciously in the days that led up to his death. He had increased his life insurance premiums with Liberty Life from about R2,000 a month to about R23,000 per month. He had also opened a bank account in Mauritius and sent money to his sister in Australia.
His fiancée, Rozanne Vosloo, had begun making inquiries about leaving the country.
Investigators from the Legal practitioners’ Fidelity Fund revealed that KwaMashu was already red-flagged as “the place to go when people wanted to fake their own deaths”.
Noseweek understands that the tip-off that Venter was still alive came from a Liberty Life investigator after he had confronted fiancée Prinsloo with all the suspicious facts surrounding that life insurance policy. Venter, who was then 34, and Prinsloo were arrested in Durban in December 2017 by officers from Point police station and, after spending a night in the cells, were taken to court, facing charges of fraud.
But they never got as far as having to stand in the dock – the prosecutor who scanned through the docket pronounced that there was not enough evidence against the pair and they were released from custody.
At the prompting of a reporter who was covering the case, the docket was recalled and placed under the supervision of a senior prosecutor, who advised the police on what further steps needed to be taken to place it back on the roll.
In the past 18 months it seems that no progress has been made with the investigation. The explanation now proferred: “You cannot prosecute the dead.” Venter is still officially dead – until Home Affairs withdraws that death certificate and reinstates him as alive.
Venter and Prinsloo returned to Vryheid, disgraced. For some time he hid out on his parents’ farm.
In order to resurrect the striking-off application – abandoned because of his supposed “death”, the law society sensibly obtained statements from Vryheid residents who had seen him in the flesh, alive.
Belinda Uys, who works for a local law firm, confirmed under oath that she had seen him at a supermarket in December 2017 buying the Vryheid Herald which, coincidentally, had a picture of him on the front page relating to an article about his alleged fraud.
Daniel Bredenhann said he had seen Venter twice, once in a vehicle driven by a Liberty Life insurance broker and again in February 2018 when he was driving away from his parents’ house. This was enough to get a final strike-off order. But apparently not enough to get him arrested and prosecuted.
In the meantime, Vosloo, who has since moved away from Vryheid, has attempted to distance herself from the crime. She claims to be a whistleblower and has reportedly offered to turn state witness.
In an interview with Rapport, she said that after it was revealed that Venter had stolen money from his trust account, he told her the only way out was suicide or to fake his death.
She said she had visited him in the Durban flat where he was hiding out, taken him food and done his washing. But her conscience was worrying her so she approached an attorney and told him everything.
She claimed Venter’s parents had been aware that he was not dead and believed he was in witness protection because of a “big court case”.
“I want nothing to do with him anymore,” she said.
And neither does anyone else.
In an interview with the Herald, close friend attorney Gerrie Grove said he was “shocked, furious and betrayed” by what Adriaan has done.
“Adriaan and I were friends. We worked on some cases together and even went hunting together. I cried when I heard that he had died. I travelled to Vryheid for the memorial service and cried again when I saw his father.
“It never even crossed my mind that he could have done something so criminal. A doctor had declared him dead, his fiancée had identified the body. It was enough for me to believe he was gone,” said Grove, adding: “I am glad he was caught.”
Wherever Venter is, he is keeping a low profile. Very occasionally he is spotted in the town.
While the fraud case number registered at Point police station remains current, he has not been re-arrested.
A theft charge lodged in Vryheid by an 85-year-old victim of his looted trust fund has never been followed up.
Reporter Naicker tells Noseweek that six weeks ago she called Home Affairs. The senior official she spoke to expressed surprise at her query: they had never been told about the case. He asked to be sent copies of her reports.
He said that the death certificate issued by his department was not necessarily corruptly produced: he claimed it was more likely issued on the basis of a doctor’s certificate certifying Venter’s death from natural causes. So, if there was such a doctor’s certificate, which doctor had issued it? Or was it a forgery? Who identified the body and reported the death to Home Affairs?
The Herald reporter lodged an official request for sight of the doctor’s certificate, only to be told it would not have been electronically scanned; the paper document would be in an envelope in storage in Pretoria. Six weeks later it had still not been found.
It remains to be seen whether justice will ever be served or if, by faking his death, a serious fraudster can indefinitely escape prosecution because the law is an ass.
• Broughton quotes extensively from Estella Naicker’s reports in Vryheid Herald, with their kind permission.
Tributes in the funeral brochure:
From the first day I met you I knew ‘here comes trouble’. I asked you time and again “what are your flaws?” because I knew no one is perfect. But you were. You were my perfect and I knew that through thick and thin we would stay together…
Pierre and Sharon:
A thousand thanks for all the chats, the visits, the braai or just a quiet drink together. Thank you for all your hard work. You taught me an unbelievable amount and for that I am extremely grateful. You have been taken from us all too soon.
My friend Adriaan, it is difficult to put into words precisely how I feel. I can’t help but share one thought: As I sit here on a rock and think over everything, I see an hourglass whose sand has not yet run through. I feel there is so much we still have to do. But as hard as it is to understand, I know it is God’s will... Until we meet again, my old friend.
We’ve done a lot of things that we’ll never forget or regret, being the good and bad one. Running the dogs, hunting and most of all having good chats over a braai. It’s hard to cheer up because I’ve lost a true friend. Until we meet again, your friendship and big smile will never be forgotten.
Thank you for your friendship and your visits… and that you taught me what brands like Lacoste and Polo are. I hope that, at the moment, you are sitting on the MSC Melody in heaven wearing your best pointy shoes and Lacoste shirt and that you are planning your next little trip to a “lekker” function. Goodbye my mate, till we see one another again.
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