The Von Bullshits: this one will run and run

After our story about her shopping and eating habits and her propensity to accumulate debts and antiques appeared in nose62, Baroness Alexandra von Maltzahn embarked on a telephone marathon, calling all her ex-staff members and ordering them not to talk to the press. She hasn’t paid most of them in over six months so we wondered why she thought they might obey. Then she rushed to her local Exclusive Books in Constantia (right next to her favourite Seattle Coffee shop), where she pleaded with staff to remove the magazine from it’s usual place on the front counter, stating that her husband says “noseweek is a cheap and trashy magazine”.

There was no putting out the fires. In London, the (presumably equally “cheap and trashy”) Evening Standard picked up on our story on November 17 with a full page spread headlined: “Baron and Baroness von Bulls**t, betrayal and the 1.5m scam that stunned London society”. Germany’s best-known news magazine, Der Spiegel was set to follow suit as this issue of noseweek went to press.

Finally, for a feelgood moment, don’t miss Abe Swersky’s letter to noseweek (see Letters) about all that rent the baroness had owed him for year.

How to succeed at white collar crime: shop the boss

It’s not surprising that white collar crime is becoming ever more popular. A well tried formula is now firmly in place that allows you to defraud and divert as many millions as you wish, yet ensure that the punishment you receive is no more than a slap on the wrist.

The formula goes like this: Commit the crime, but make sure there’s at least one kingpin above you giving the orders – and keep the detailed evidence that could convict him. When the cops come knocking at your door, have your attorney briefed to let it be known that you will confess all, especially the boss’s role, in return for a generous plea bargain.

Thus it was with Grant Ramsay, auditor and managing director of Galahad Business Solutions. He was arrested on 1 April 2003 for tax fraud totalling R177m, and released on bail the following day after providing the State with a guarantee for R1m.

Ramsay proceeded to lift the lid on smart book-keeping as practised by many high-powered South African businessmen. He told investigators that up to 400 businesses had defrauded the taxman of multi-millions, with the help of auditors and SA Revenue Service officials.

Ramsay blew the whistle on Jack Milne’s PSC Guaranteed Growth scam, which duped more than 4000 investors into pouring R250m into the fund in 2000. Those arrested in the round-up included Gary Porritt, who headed JSE-listed financial services company Tigon and Shawcell. Porritt faces criminal charges relating to the collapse of PSCGG. The hearing has been postponed to next April.

In return for his assistance, Ramsay’s 10-year prison sentence was halved to five years. He started his stretch on 8 May last year, but was released recently after serving barely more than 14 months. The canny moneyman, rumoured to have once owned assets worth R300m, is now back in his favourite stamping ground outside Dullstroom, where he is said to be busy reclaiming his substantial number of farms from the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

Who says crime doesn’t pay?

Road Accident Fund says it does have leg to stand on

Our account of the trials of Rose Banda, elderly resident of Casa Mia old folks home in Johannesburg’s Berea, who lost both legs after an out-of-control car mounted the pavement and mowed her down as she walked home from church (nose62), has been tabled at a full meeting of the executive board of the Road Accident Fund.

Meanwhile several readers have also called and written in to express their outrage after we described how the fund had rejected Rose’s R2.9m claim for damages, claiming the accident had not been reported to the police (it was); that Rose had not taken reasonable steps to establish the identity of the driver of the car that crippled her (the police report has all those details); and that, anyway, the accident was Rose’s fault for “failing to keep a proper look-out”; and finally, and most outrageously, that she “disregarded the rights of other road users by causing the collision”.

A member of the RAF’s executive board contacted noseweek asking if we could let them have a copy of the four-page police report (which Rose’s attorney submitted to the fund in April). We obliged and were told that the executive had now instructed its top management to prepare a full report into the matter for the board’s consideration.

One of the fund’s executive directors promised noseweek that the fund would issue a statement on the situation by 4pm on our press day. No, it won’t be a repeat of the “it’s sub judice, no further comment” that we got last time, we were assured.

The RAF’s official statement duly arrived, as promised. It reads: “The Road Accident Fund has valid, lawful defences to the claim. The article that was published in the November 2004 edition of noseweek is factually incorrect. The RAF is, however, unable to comment further at this time as the matter is sub judice.”

Banda’s attorney, Anthony Millar, comments: “noseweek’s article was accurate in all respects and the RAF’s claim that it was inaccurate is disingenuous.”

Sars closes in on Absa forex scamster

There are some pleasing signs of life in the long-stagnant investigation by the Scorpions and SA Revenue Service into the great R2bn forex scam, as recounted by crime syndicate member Michael Addinall in noses 56 & 59.

Addinall, presently resident in C Section, Pretoria Central prison, is 27 months into a five-year sentence for money-laundering. Recently he received a visit from SARS investigators, who took a detailed statement from him about Donovan Smart.

Smart, readers will recall, was an Absa forex official who, according to Addinall, shunted millions of rands offshore for the syndicate. “He needed no documentation other than a client’s name and banking details, and 3% commission per transaction paid into his Nedbank Credit Card,” read Addinall’s remarkable whistle-blowing dossier.

Smart had developed amnesia when noseweek asked him about these innovative forex deals. But it seems his memory revived when investigators arrived on his Cape Town doorstep. “Smart sang like a canary,” reports the well-informed Addinall. “He confirmed every single thing that I’ve been trying to get them to investigate for 29 months – and then some.”

Investigators have told Addinall that Smart has been given state witness status, and immunity from prosecution.

So what about the syndicate bosses – for example, Kobus Dreyer, who according to Addinall imported more than R100m worth of goods on which no customs duty, VAT or income tax was paid? This is delicate ground for Paul Louw, the Scorpions’ prosecuting advocate who is heading the investigation into The Syndicate and its operations.

It seems that Louw’s wife and Dreyer’s wife are bosom buddies who worked together for years. Louw has, we are told, assured his wife that if “fate” decrees that Dreyer be arrested, he will recuse himself from prosecuting dear old Kobus. [Maybe the reluctant investigator should recuse himself now, rather than wait for fate and eternity? – Ed.]

 After the horrors of a mass cell crammed with 80 hardened criminals, Addinall tells us that these days he is living “in much better circumstances” at Pretoria Central. His new abode is a sparkling clean cell shared with only nine other prisoners – “all civilized types”.

The vastly improved accommodation comes with his new role as an official prison teacher. Subject of the Addinall in-house lectures? Entrepreneurial Business Skills.

Homeless Lazerson

Sue-Ann Lazerson’s epic battle (noses 46, 47 and 56) against her stepdaughters Dana and Lindy for a slice of the estate of her late husband, divorce attorney Ivor Lazerson, grinds on.

The estate’s administrator, Lazerson’s former law partner Kim Meikle, has still to file the liquidation and distribution account showing how much the flamboyant attorney was worth – estimates range from R6m to R10m. The L&D account should have been lodged with the Master of the High Court within six months of Lazerson’s death. More than two years have passed since Lazerson’s demise on 24 June 2002, but no filing has been forthcoming.

The master has given the errant Meikle a deadline of 18 January 2005 to do her job and file the long overdue account.

Sue-Ann sees the delay as a deliberate tactic to inconvenience her. Certainly, it has forced her to sell her cottage in the Johannesburg suburb of Orchards before it could be repossessed by Nedbank – there was R789,000 owing on the bond.

The widow is reluctant to disclose how much she got for her home, but confides that the proceeds will just cover the outstanding bond, pay her lawyer (“he didn’t want to continue without his fees being paid”) and settle up the “enormous amount” owing on her credit cards.

Life is apparently a struggle on the R5000-a-month interim settlement Sue-Ann has been receiving from Lazerson’s estate for the last 14 months. In November she turned down the latest final settlement offer from Meikle. “I’m not allowed to say what it was, but it was a kick in the arse, an insult.”

To say there is bad blood between Sue-Ann and her stepdaughters is to put it mildly. Readers will recall how Sue-Ann served a divorce summons on her critically ill – and psychologically unstable – husband in a desperate bid to establish a claim for maintenance against his estate before he died. Lazerson responded with a codicil to his will, stating that she should receive no monies from his estate. He died less than a month later, aged 64

As we went to press, a tearful Sue-Ann, now 53, was vacating her Orchards cottage for more modest quarters in Westdene, where a cousin has offered her a bed until the end of January. “After that I’m homeless,” she gulps. Her five companions – a 17-year-old cat and four Jack Russels – also face futures of varying uncertainty. “Kitty will be put down before Christmas,” says Sue-Ann sadly. The dogs? “Jaci and Oscar, whom Ivor adored, are now 12 years old. They will be put down in January. Sugar and Spike, who are about four, are going to a friend in Cape Town.”

Sue-Ann’s plan to bring a high court action against Lazerson’s estate under the new Maintenance of the Surviving Spouse Act is as far away as ever. “My application for legal aid has been turned down and my lawyer says that unless I can finance the case myself, which I can’t, I must accept a settlement offer.”

Tonteldoos' anti-mining lawyer finds the price is right

As the sound of blasting echoes through the Mpumalanga grassveld paradise that was Tonteldoos, residents who for the past six years have been resisting the invasion by granite mining companies, have received a nasty shock: Hendrik Kruger, not only their neighbour but also the Johannesburg advocate who led the battle to keep Eagle Granite at bay (nose48) has sold his farm – to another granite mining company!

Readers will recall Kruger’s disapproval after his former friend and fellow campaigner, advocate Hentie Joubert, accepted Eagle Granite’s offer of US$200,000 (R1.5m at the time) for his 85 hectares in the ecologically sensitive area – and then started campaigning on behalf of Eagle.

Now Kruger, who rejected a similar $200,000 offer for his farm – because it was conditional on his action group withdrawing its opposition to Eagle – has accepted what he describes as a “market-related price” for his own 75 hectares from Eagle Granite’s big rival Marlin Granite.

The Garden of Eden that was Tonteldoos – some 80 small farms northwest of Dullstroom – is home to red data endangered plants, 391 species of birds, and rare butterflies. But it is fatefully blighted because its koppies contain generous quantities of gabbronorite (granite) of a rare kind, a black stone that sparkles with blue iridescent specks and is much in demand by the building industry in the Far East.

As noseweek went to press, the annual celebration of the Yellow Arum Festival at Tonteldoos was threatened, as local residents prepared to divert to the Mapochs golf club in nearby Roossenekal to debate Kruger’s seemingly bizarre intention to apply to the Department of Minerals and Energy to “undertake prospecting activities” on his farm.

Eagle Granite, the South African subsidiary of Swiss-registered Multistone AG, moved into Tonteldoos in 1998. Kruger and Joubert formed the Mapochsgronde Action Group in an attempt to keep the mining company and its noisy and dirty operations out. But these days Tonteldoos echoes with the sounds of Eagle Granite’s blasting operations.

Kruger shrugs off his sell-out to Marlin Granite. “The action group’s constitution doesn’t say we fight mining per se,” he insists. “It says we will oppose mining companies that do not mine in accordance with the law and in recognition of the unique character of the area.

“Marlin Granite bought a property adjoining the mine two years ago and the koppie they want to mine is about 100 metres from my house. They’ve applied for prospecting rights there and if they then obtain a mining licence my property will lose its value entirely.

“I would lose every cent that I’ve put into the property – the R300,000 or R400,000 that I paid to build a house and for the land.”

“I’ve sold the farm to Marlin, yes, but for far less than R1m. I’ve received a market-related price and I can stay there for at least another year, at a nominal rental.”

Kruger’s present application to undertake prospecting activities doesn’t mean that the advocate will scale his koppie with pick and shovel in a hunt for the precious black granite. It is simply, he explains, that in terms of the new Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act, the person who was the registered owner of the land on 1 May 2004 must apply for prospecting rights within 12 months – or lose them by default to the state.

Once he has the prospecting rights, Kruger will sub-contract them to Marlin.

The smooth-talking advocate remains chairman of the Mapochsgronde action group, and says that he and it will continue to monitor Marlin’s activities to ensure that the company complies with the law. Whether his fellow members will be as happy with this arrangement after the November 27 golf course meeting remains to be seen.

“There’s a distinction between Marlin and Eagle Granite,” says Kruger. “Eagle Granite is a renegade foreign company come to strip the Third World. Marlin Granite, most of the time, has attempted to apply the law as far as rehabilitation [of the area] is concerned.”

Maybe “most of the time” isn’t good enough.

Wine writer and Grape magazine kiss and make up

Mr Howe-to-drink-and-fly-for-free and Grape have – wisely, we think – called off their libel action that had already been scheduled for hearing in the Cape High Court.

Well known wine praise singer-for-hire and travel writer Graham Howe has withdrawn his claim for R100,000 in defamation damages against the editors of Grape magazine, standard bearers for purist (non-commercial) wine writing. The threatened court action arose from a less complimentary – and very funny – piece about Howe published in Grape last year. (See nose52.)

A quote: “Graham Howe is to the integrity and independence of wine writing what George Bush is to world peace.”

Tim James, co-editor of Grape (and also noseweek’s wine columnist) and Cathy van Zyl have issued an apologetic and conciliatory statement. “Frankly, some of our comments about the individual were a bit heavy,” they say. Howe and Grape will each pay their own legal costs.

Moral 1: If, today, prostitution is a legitimate way of earning a living, why shouldn’t wine writers slaver over a wine for a fee?

Moral 2: Wise writers don’t litigate – they write.

As the Harksens said to Bishops...

Of course it’s wrong to share in the spoils of a thief! we hear you say.

In November 1997 noseweek ran a four page story which declared in bold letters: “A battle royal has been raging in South Africa’s courts since 1994 between a fugitive German conman, Jurgen Harksen, and the trustees of his insolvent estate, briefed to find and seize the fortune he had managed to take off the rich and gullible of Europe – said to total over R1-billion – before fleeing to South Africa ahead of various court officials waving warrants for his arrest.”

Within the year the whole of literate South Africa had to have known that the officially insolvent Harksens were happily spending huge sums that undoubtedly came from the fortunes they had stolen.

Did all respectable South Africans rush to spurn them? Apparently not. Faced with those piles of lovely lolly, all they did was take the odd precaution, like insisting on taking cash up front.

Alan and Leslie Louw rented the Harksens their Constantia property, Brink House on Klaassens Road, in June 1999. Having read about Jurgen’s trail of destruction in Germany the Louw’s thought they’d be safe having the Harskens’ as tenants as the lease was in the name of the Jeanette Harksen Family Trust. The Harksens did, after all, pay a year’s rent up front (R212,000) and a deposit of R25,000!

But, in papers lodged at the Cape High Court in November, the liquidators of Harksen’s estate, Eileen Fey and Michael Lane, are claiming the rental and the deposit back – for repayment to the Harksens’ victims. C’mon, lets face it, where did anyone think Harksen’s pretty young spouse was getting all the money needed to keep the thieving couple in the style to which they were accustomed? The South African disease called flexible morality has spread to the most unlikely places. Cape Town’s Diocesan College (yes, ever so posh and pious Bishops) also succumbed to the temptation of sharing in the Harksens’ stolen loot – taking the standard line of “we’ll take it if it’s in cash, or not in your name”. From 2001 to 2003 Mrs Harksen paid in advance for the entire junior schooling of their two younger boys, and for the elder boy’s entire high schooling in advance: a cool R396,723. Payments were made in cash, and from the Voyager Trust and Unitrade (Pty) Ltd, obvious Harksen fronts.

Confronted by the estate trustees with a demand for the return of the money, the school, represented by the principal, Mr Grant Nupen, and the chairman, James McGregor, have refused to return the school’s share of the stolen loot. Summons has been issued.

“The matter is sub judice and I will not talk about it,” McGregor told us. Which we find shocking in view of the moral issues at stake. But then, of course, we did not go to Bishops. Jeanette is facing charges of fraud and corruption in the Cape High Court after being given a two-year suspended sentence by a German court for complicity in her husband’s fraud there. Jurgen, meanwhile, is languishing in a German prison for six years, having opted to face a German prison term rather than a South African one if found guilty in a South African court. (Is Jurgen a Bishops old boy, perhaps?)

Dr Dolittle could get off with R5000 fine

Chippy Hubbard (noses 53, 55) died on March 4, after months of suffering from complications arising from a stroke. Dr Peter Whitfield was the physician-on-call at Cape Town’s Kingsbury Hospital the evening in August 2003 that Hubbard was brought in, disoriented but still conscious. Whitfield had already been called and briefed by telephone two hours earlier, but it took another 17 hours before he came to see his patient, by then in a coma. Thanks to Whitfield, it took a further 24 hours before Hubbard received any proactive care – from another doctor. Kingsbury nursing staff, too, sat back and watched their patient slowly deteriorate without calling Whitfield or any other doctor to attend him.

Hubbard’s wife, Jeanette, laid a complaint with the Health Professionals Council about Whitfield’s conduct. They have found prima facie evidence of professional misconduct and are drawing up a charge sheet. Once presented to him he can either ask for a formal inquiry hearing, or pay an admission of guilt fine of a mere R5000. Then it’s back to business as usual. The blemish, however, will remain on record at the Health Professionals Council (012 338 9300 or go to where anyone is free to inquire about any health professional’s “record”. But you’ll have to put up with their extraordinarily bad switchboard service.

The Kingsbury Hospital still has Dr Whitfield on its on-call roster.

According to Hospital Manager Marius Lukhoff, each ward now has an algorithm on display which “shows various steps that should be followed under various circumstances”. Apparently until now this hospital has been operating without such procedures in place. n

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