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IOLProperty - South African Property For Sale
Tuesday Feb 21, 2012

Court winds up KZN wine estate

The defunct Stables Wine Estate, which is facing a R3.4-million lawsuit brought by the Economic Development Department, has been provisionally wound up.

Yesterday, Durban High Court Judge Graham Lopes granted an order provisionally winding up the estate after an application was brought by Firstrand Bank. The matter was adjourned to April 2.

Firstrand's commercial recoveries manager, Shashika Ramtahal, said the estate, located on a property in Nottingham Road in the Midlands, owed the bank about R1.3m plus interest in respect of loans.

She said that immovable property owned by Harbour Rocks Properties had been pledged as security for repayment of the debt.

"It (the estate) operated on land owned by Harbour Rocks Properties. The alter ego behind both Harbour Rocks Properties and the respondent (the wine estate) was Ralph van Niekerk, who was the sole director of both companies and in fact ran the wine estate with his wife Judy."

Ramtahal said Harbour Rocks Properties owed about R2.5m to Standard Bank and R1.6m to Absa, and both banks had instituted foreclosure proceedings to recover the monies. She said Firstrand Bank did not know of the Van Niekerks' whereabouts and they had apparently abandoned their business.

"The wine estate ceased trading around June 2011 and both Ralph van Niekerk and his wife appear to have simply abandoned their business and property. I respectfully submit that if the situation is left to continue for any period of time, the equipment will be vandalised or deteriorate."

Ramtahal said the bank's attorney had sent a letter to the wine estate's address on September 23 last year, demanding payment of the amounts owed, but no response had been forthcoming.

"It has been several weeks since the demand was served on the respondent. The respondent is accordingly deemed to be unable to pay its debts."

She said it was believed that the wine estate also owed money to other creditors.

"I assume that such creditors will no doubt seek to take legal action against the respondent. It would be to the benefit of the general body of creditors if the respondent is wound up in order to ensure an equitable distribution of its assets."

The Firstrand application comes after the Economic Development Department brought an application against the wine estate in the Pietermaritzburg High Court last year, calling for the court to authorise the sheriff to take possession of the estate's moveable property and assets, and to hold them as security for the debt.

The department is seeking to recover money it lent the wine estate through its Gijima project, which receives its funding from the EU.

The money was to be used to make the estate more competitive and sustainable by increasing the number of its vines.

In their responding papers, Ralph van Niekerk said the department owed them about R1.2m.

He said the department should have given them R3.4m through the Gijima project, but they had only received three payments totalling R2.2m.

The matter is pending.

The Mercury

 
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