JOHANESBURG – North West developer Nicola Prinsloo, her husband Jaco and their Gauteng associate Cherie Eilertsen of Platinum Planet could soon face racketeering charges which carry a life sentence if scores of disgruntled Metsi Pepa investors have their way.
Advocate Robin Stransham-Ford and attorney Spencer Tarr, the legal counsel for around 80 out of 200 investors that bought into the failed game reserve development outside Potchefstroom, , plan to launch an application for racketeering and fraud charges with the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) within weeks.
Stransham-Ford told Moneyweb: “We’re going to ask the NDPP to authorise the issuance of a prosecution authorisation. He/she authorises this in terms of section 2(4) of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. You cannot be charged with racketeering unless the NDPP has authorised a racketeering charge.”
The charge is the only one of its kind under South African law that needs to be sanctioned by the prosecuting authority. Stransham-Ford says the charge will also cover individuals who “knew about or who could have reasonably known about, or ought to have known” about transactions involving the Metsi Pepa development.
The project was launched in 2008, with the Metsi Pepa website describing it as: "Africa's landmark organic and wellness eco-estate development." It promises luxury tented accommodation with wildlife, including the big five, exhibition facilities, spa and Turkish baths and a health hydro, among others.
But, the development limped from one crisis to another beginning with the alleged breach of conditions set out by a Department of Agriculture record of decision (ROD). The ROD stipulated that no building could take place within at least 30m from wetlands on the farm which is situated near the Klerkskraal dam of the Mooi River. This condition was allegedly breached by Jaco Prinsloo when he removed reeds from the wetlands. The authorities got wind of it and the development basically came to a standstill.
In the meantime, the Prinsloos and Eilertsen who originally marketed the development and received deposits from investors, kept assuring shareholders that all was on track and that their investments were safe.
While sending out reassuring e-mails, Nicola Prinsloo dropped a bombshell in September 2011 when she informed investors in an e-mail that the development had been sold to Land Affairs, allegedly for 30% less than its monetary value. Her legal counsel, Johan Botha, subsequently offered investors 40c in the rand as compensation.
Stransham-Ford says in addition to obtaining a restraining order on all the assets of those involved, counsel will also be seeking an order entitling the authorities to conduct a search and seizure of records that support any transactions pertaining to the development.
The advocate adds: “According to our information, these folk conducted this type of scam on more than one occasion, on more than one population. During our work on Metsi Pepa it has come to light that Mrs Eilertsen particularly, and her family have been involved in similar projects before. We have not heard of any success in any venture that she has undertaken.
“As for Mrs Prinsloo, I read that she is now embarking on a new venture, to raise further funds for another development. Mrs Eilertsen’s prior activities and Mrs Prinsloo’s subsequent activities, give us cause to believe that they are doing this for a living, as a racket. I think that they believe that they are bullet proof and they think that no-one will take action,” Stransham-Ford maintained.
He added that attorneys would be amenable to negotiating a settlement should Prinsloo and Eilertsen wish, after having paid the monies owed with interest.
He says the accusers had no intention of developing the land in question. “If you were associated in any way in raising money, receiving money, distributing money, spending money, you stand a chance of being charged with racketeering,” he said.
Asked if counsel was confident of obtaining the go ahead to proceed against the Prinsloos and Eilertsen, Stransham-Ford replied: “We are very confident. Not a single structure was put up, nothing was developed, tens of millions were taken in, and the only time they offered any money, was a sizeable sum from the sale of the bottom part of the property which rightfully belonged to the enterprise.”“On a balance of probabilities, we need to prove our civil case. Will a court believe that they did never intend to build this thing? Even if they did, the fact that they didn’t and made money afterwards so that they could repay us entirely and didn’t … that will go to their lack of bona fide. They proceeded in bad faith throughout. If there is no criminal conviction, [we] will seek to get our money back.”
Tarr appealed for anyone with further information to come forward: “We appeal to anyone with evidence of previous, similar conduct or racketeering conduct on the part of any of these parties, previously to the Metsi Pepa debacle [to come forward]. That will go a long way to supporting our claim that these people have not only done it before, but they are continuing to do so as we speak.”
Asked to comment on the planned legal action, Eilertsen’s attorney said in an e-mail: “Eilertsen’s [sic] Our client(s) has / have no knowledge of the ‘new’ claim / action being taken / instituted, and your mail to this extent is news to her / it as well. Action on our clients’ part at this juncture will in all likelihood be premature. We are of the view that responding in any form or fashion on mere allegations of pending action(s) will be senseless and nothing other than a shotgun approach. Should such claim / action be instituted, we hold instruction to vigorously defend our client(s)”.
The Prinsloos’ representative, Johan Botha, said he would respond once he had consulted with his client.