Windhoek-Tears flowed on Tuesday when Judge Alfred Siboleka convicted three people, a married couple and an accomplice of theirs, on 513 counts of fraud, contravening the Banking Institutions Act and contravening the Companies Act.
Judge Siboleka pronounced Charles van Rensburg, Melanie Grace van Niekerk and her husband, Jesaja Jeremia (JJ) van Niekerk guilty after a trial of more than three years in which almost 80 of the people they swindled testified.
According to the charge sheet, the Van Niekerks and Van Rensburg operated an illegal pyramid investment company at Oranjemund between August, 2006 and February, 2014 and through which they solicited at least N$11.4 million from acquaintances, friends and family by promising unrealistic returns, ranging between seven and 15% a month.
The operated a business called West Coast Financial Aid cc in which Van Rensburg and JJ van Niekerk had equal shares and employed Melanie van Niekerk as principal officer. Van Rensburg also had a business called Mias Micro-Lending.
The three denied guilt on all the charges preferred against them – 256 counts of fraud, alternatively theft, 256 counts of conducting banking business without a licence and one count of reckless or fraudulent carrying on of a business at the start of their trial in February, 2015.
According to Judge Siboleka, the defence of the three accused amounted to mere denials of any wrongdoing with Van Rensburg and JJ van Niekerk dumping all the blame on Melanie van Niekerk, saying she kept the serious worsening cash flow problems to
This was not correct, the judge said, and continued: “The evidence before court is that she in fact told them about the cash flow problems, and accused one even suggested she must reduce the interest to 6% and further he withdrew his membership, but left his investment in the business. They did nothing about it. Nothing reduces any of the three accused persons’ blameworthiness.”
Judge Siboleka stressed the businesses were merely scam cash loans carefully planned to con investors of their cash. He further said the accused were very evasive when asked about the manner in which they acquired their investors, however evidence by all the investors who lost their money showed they were approached by either of the three accused persons or told by someone who heard about the cash loan business from another person.
“The message that was circulated or caused to be spread by the accused was that they were running a cash loan business accepting/receiving mostly and preferentially cash from any interested member of the public, then lending it out to those in need of it; payments of high monthly interest; the guarantee on the return of each investor’s capital,” the judge noted.
He further stated the message was circulated to all and sundry to draw in investors, some of whom were frail, only to be fraudulently robbed of their hard-earned money.
”It is also very clear that the investors were conned by the false promises of high interests that were from the beginning unlikely to be fulfilled,” the judge said.
He said it was his considered view the doctrine of common purpose was satisfied as the evidence showed the three pyramid fraud accused acted in unison regarding the formation and operation of the business. He said they were lying to Namfisa and the Bank of Namibia that the money they required would come from them and not involve deposits from members of the public.
All three of the accused were present in Oranjemund where they created the businesses West Coast Financial Aid cc and Mias Micro-Lending respectively. It is the same place, Oranjemund, where all the crimes on this matter were committed. All three of the accused were aware of the fact that West Coast Financial Aid cc and Mias Micro-Lending were not licensed as banking businesses to solicit money deposits and to receive same from members of the public, the investors on this matter. All three had the required mens rea (culpability) in regard to the monies so fraudulently received and eventually lost, Judge Siboleka concluded.