'Ask no questions, hear no lies'

The continuing hunt for the SME Bank's stolen millions has exposed a money-laundering operation in South Africa.

12 March 2019 | Banking

The liquidators of the SME Bank, David Bruni and Ian McLaren, have applied to the Gauteng High Court in South Africa to freeze five bank accounts held by RENS Kontant in Transito CC at FirstRand Bank.

The liquidators believe that RENS Kontant played a role in the theft perpetrated on the SME Bank.

RENS Kontant, a cash-in-transit company, allegedly received N$4.4 million of the SME Bank money, which it then liquidated within a period of four days.

The N$4.4 million was paid into the RENS Kontant accounts by a company called Klosette/Transparency, to which N$67 million of the SME Bank's stolen money had been transferred.

It is alleged that the top structure of the SME Bank used fraudulent invoices to spirit money out of the bank, often using cash-in-transit companies such as RENS Kontant, which then delivered or electronically transferred money to those who benefited from the theft.

The information from RENS was extracted by inquests conducted in South Africa in November 2018 and January this year.

With that information an ex parte (one-sided) court application was brought before the Gauteng High Court for fear that the money would be transferred and possibly disappear forever if the respondents were given notice.

RENS Kontant is accused of not having taken measures to safeguard the interests of the SME Bank, as it is legally required to do, and that it had acted in breach of a duty of care to the SME Bank.

The two people summoned by the commission of inquiry to testify for RENS Kontant, Christoffel van Rensburg and his mother, Kotie, admitted under oath that they had “asked no questions and heard no lies”.

Christoffel van Rensburg later said the phrase had been used in an informal and jocular manner.

RENS Kontant had also delivered N$2.5 million to George Markides, the man who allegedly dispensed hard cash to various beneficiaries of the stolen SME Bank money, without reporting it to the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) in South Africa.

South Africa's FIC Act requires that cash transfers exceeding N$24 999 must be reported to the FIC.

Bruni and McLaren argue that these were “serious suspect circumstances” that raised “serious questions of money laundering and unlawful activities”.

They further argue that RENS Kontant - because of its failure to report the transfers to FIC - was also responsible for other damages of more than N$57 million suffered by the SME Bank. This money was paid into the Transparency account after the N$4.4 million had been paid over to RENS Kontant.

South Africa's FIC has an information-sharing agreement with the FIC in Namibia. The liquidators argue that if the FIC in Namibia had known about the transfers to RENS Kontant, no further payments to Transparency would have been made.



'Don't know sme Bank'

The Van Rensburgs maintained that they only heard about the SME Bank when they were summoned to appear before the commission. They denied any liability for the N$4.4 million or the N$57 million.

They said they also did not know of Transparency's dealings with the SME Bank, as their client was Markides's company, Dedrego CC.

Christoffel van Rensburg said RENS often transported cash and other goods for Markides's businesses. He said Markides's Dedrego Refinery bought precious metals from retail shops throughout Gauteng and exchanged these for cash.

They said two amounts paid into RENS's accounts were deposited by Markides and, therefore, they did not consider the transactions to be untoward or improper.





CATHERINE SASMAN

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