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Siblings in R139m fraud case need money to pay lawyer

A Queensburgh brother and sister facing 2 500 counts of fraud and one of unlawfully conducting the business of a bank, were given a lifeline by a Durban magistrate.

Defence counsel, advocate Jimmy Howse, asked Durban Regional Court magistrate Siphiwe Hlophe for an adjournment this week, to allow his clients time to raise money to pay his fees.

State advocate Khumbuzile Shazi vehemently opposed this application, saying witnesses have been waiting more than 10 years to hear what happened to their investments.

“They now have to wait yet again,” she argued
Mervin Rodney Dennis and his sister, Mary-Ann Peters, pleaded not guilty at the start of their trial in February this year.

It is alleged that the sequestrated businessman and his sister ran Global Investments, and invested only about R4.9 million of the approximately R138.9m received, on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

The rest of the money was apparently used to repay existing investors and allegedly spent by Dennis on gambling, jewellery and payments to motor dealerships.

Many of these investors were teachers who had taken retirement packages, pensioners and businessmen, as well as people who entrusted Dennis with their life savings.

He was sequestrated in May 2005, and in that year more than 800 investors lodged about R70m in claims against his insolvent estate.

According to the charge sheet, Dennis started Global Investments in 1998, and allegedly promised investors their money would be invested on the JSE.

In 2003, the South African Revenue Service (Sars) conducted an audit on the company and the investment club’s bank account was frozen.

The State alleges that to keep the funds flowing in, Peters opened a bank account in the company’s name and deposits from new investors were then diverted to this account.

Interest payments to investors were said to be made from this account through cheques apparently issued by Peters.

On Wednesday, the magistrate said that while he agreed about the long wait for investors, there would still be a postponement either way.

Should he refuse Howse’s application, the pair would then have to apply for Legal Aid, and this new attorney would need time to consult and prepare, causing a further delay.

Should he grant the application, there would be also be a delay to allow Dennis and Peters time to raise counsel fees.

Previously, there had been numerous delays to the start of the trial.

“Although the court is not happy with the way the accused’s attorney handled the matter, the court is of the view that if the application is refused, the accused would suffer. This would affect their right to a fair trial,” said Hlophe.

The matter was adjourned until January 24 for the pair to raise the funds.

Many of the investors, who were in court on Thursday, nodded their approval to Shazi’s sentiments about the delay, and were disappointed with the outcome.

“This is a never-ending story,” said a pensioner.

“He can find money for his lawyer, but he can’t find money for us,” said another.

Source : IOL


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