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Monday Feb 25, 2013

'Johann Rupert's got my wine farm'

A Durban man has vowed to reclaim "his" Cape wine farm that he alleges was illegally sold to Africa's second-richest man, Johann Rupert, for R25 million.

Ian Brakspear, a Zimbabwe-born investment market trader, says the Durban High Court order authorising the sale is fictitious and the work of corrupt legal practitioners and liquidators. He wants the "fraudulent" liquidation order overturned.

Rupert, chairman of the Swissbased luxury goods company Richemont bought the Franschhoek Klein Normandie farm in 2009. It borders the Boschendal farm L'Ormarins that is owned by his family.

Brakspear, who was in financial difficulty, initially negotiated in November 2007 for his farm to be sold for R37m. But before any agreements could be reached with potential buyers, Brakspear's company, West Dunes, which owned the farm, was provisionally liquidated by the Fairbairn Group, owned by Nedbank, in the high court, two days before Christmas 2008.

Brakspear has since laid formal complaints with the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society, has written to KZN Deputy Judge President Achmat Naaim Jappie and laid charges of fraud with the Hawks. Brakspear says the court order was granted under the pretext that he owed a fictitious loan of R7m to Nedbank - a loan he says never existed.

The Sunday Independent has seen a copy of the interim court order, which is attributed to Judge Sharmaine Balton, but which bears no signature and appears not to be in the usual court format.

In a response, Jappie says, "I have spoken to Judge Balton and she cannot recall dealing with the matter... This is to say that it may be that that matter had come before her and she simply cannot recall having dealt with [it].

"Similarly I have spoken to Judge [Trevor] Goven's Registrar (Goven made the interim order final) and she too cannot recall whether the matter would have come before Judge Goven." Brakspear said: "I have been fighting every day for the past four years. I have received threats on my life if I don't stop." Brakspear's investigation, aided by the senior court registrar, has produced a thick dossier in which he claims:

  • The court file for his case is missing;

  • The index motion roll book pages for December 2008 have been torn out;

  • There are no court recordings for the case or minutes of proceedings and reason why the order was granted; and

  • The court order accepted by the Master of the High Court in Durban was unsigned, undated and not stamped.

    Brakspear's claims are supported by a report from Hawks investigator Lieutenant Vusi Mbhele, who interviewed three High Court staff members, who all questioned the veracity of the court order.

    In his report, Mbhele says, "When the liquidation was eventually heard... it was clear most, if not all the documents have been created. The signatures on important documents are fraudulent, and I base this on statements obtained from the responsible officials."

    Durban's Master of the High Court Varsha Sewlal refused to comment but said the national communications officer would furnish a statement on the allegations. Department of Justice spokeswoman Phumla Mthala had not responded by the time of going to press.

    Rupert's spokesman Gary Baumgarten said: "We are the farm's legal owner. We are not aware of any lawsuit. Neither Mr Rupert nor L'Ormarins is involved or being sued."

    Meanwhile, Brakspear, assisted by his friend Robert Lotter, are preparing to file a court application to have the liquidation overturned and the farm transferred back to him. The men are determined to expose "rampant fraud by unscrupulous people in the legal fraternity".

    Nedbank managing executive of wealth Dave Macready said, "The allegations are unfounded. In 2009 these were investigated by the office of the Master of the High Court and found to be without merit.

    "An insolvency inquiry was also held by the liquidators of this company, at which Brakspear would have had another opportunity to vent his allegations. However, he elected not to participate in these proceedings and did not appear at the inquiry, despite being subpoenaed to give evidence in June 2009. It is unfortunate that he resorts to unfounded allegations in the media."

    Sunday Tribune

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