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Over N$100m spent on recovering SME Bank’s N$130m

Liquidators narrate story from hell
In one incident, N$65 million was spent on Caterpillar equipment which cannot be found.
Jemima Beukes
Yesterday, liquidators David Bruni and Ian McLaren revealed that it has cost them N$100 million to recover N$130 million looted from the now-defunct SME Bank.

They believe the bank, led by 21 Zimbabweans while “there are lots of accountants running around in Namibia”, was explicitly designed as a fraudulent scheme to benefit certain individuals.

The duo would not share how much it has cost them to investigate this case over the last seven years, saying it would look respectable once they recover more money.

According to McLaren, the investigations suggested that the bank was run on a 'one for you, one for me' basis by those who looted it.

"When you look at the records of the bank, you would not believe what you saw. Who withdraws N$300 000 for petty cash for three consecutive days over the counter? There were no security measures in place,” he said.

"The majority of the money was traced to cash-in-transit companies. Two cash-in-transit companies particularly, one moves money by road, one moves money out of Johannesburg by air. That went to Zimbabwe. But we also sent cash to other places in the world; you know, where legal action is prohibited," he said.

Falsified documents

The liquidators' investigation uncovered numerous falsified documents, including a multimillion-dollar transaction for electronic equipment that was never traced.

Another dubious invoice was for N$65 million worth of equipment from Caterpillar, with the funds redirected to Dubai through central Africa.

"Caterpillar cannot tell us whether it was a bulldozer or a front loader. The serial numbers were fictitious. The money is still there, and we cannot access it."

Bruni and McLaren currently hold N$130 million of recovered funds, but emphasised the high cost of retrieval. "It cost us N$100 million to get that," they said.

They added that it took eight months to have a court judgment against SME Bank directors certified by the Zimbabwean High Commission in Namibia. This certification was crucial for starting legal proceedings in Zimbabwe against SME Bank director Enoch Kamushinda, who is now believed to be in Singapore.

Additionally, the attorney they appointed in Zimbabwe was arrested on the very night he received their instructions.

“We have spent all this time, an inordinate amount of time. The problem with well-disguised schemes is that the money is not going where it is ostensibly going. We hired forensic people. They were able to determine where the money was going, up to the fifth recipient of the money. We subpoenaed records, then we started suing for the recovery of this money. And because it is big money, these things go on appeal.

"This is our appeal, we are in this time stretch. Also, the small depositors find it hard to understand the return is 25 cents on a dollar. To date now, we have 15 cents on a dollar. It is unfortunate that it is taking so long,” the liquidators said.

Threats of 'chaos and violence'

Among the frustrated depositors is the owner of Raino Motor Spares, who lost N$2 million he invested in SME Bank. He demanded that the government, which holds 65% of the liquidated bank, return his money without delay.

"We are not going to take these things lightly. I am a depositor, not a director. Those appointed as directors are dodging accountability," he said.

He emphasised that the government started the bank and depositors need to be allowed to speak up. "We need our private money that we have earned from selling eggs on the streets. Otherwise, we will create chaos. Can we go in the bush and fight for this money? Do you want us to start chaos and violence for this money? We don't appreciate the way we are limited to engage with you [Bruni and McLaren]. You can take NamPower and NamWater money because that is the government's money, and the bank is the government's bank," he added.

Another depositor who claims to have worked for the Bank of Namibia (BoN) said: "This was not a bank, it was a scheme. We need that money. This was a political scam - these guys wanted us to get money from banking institutions".

Meanwhile, another depositor Dr Daniel Nyaungua wanted to know whether they could sue the government directly.

They were advised that the liquidators have to remain neutral at all times and could not dish out legal advice. They were, however, advised to approach finance minister Ipumbu Shiimi.

[email protected]

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Namibian Sun 2024-07-17

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