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Monday Oct 01, 2012

Top Bryanston estate agent probed over sale of state land

Merrick Meek, the head of the Bryanston branch of Rawson Properties, has become embroiled in a controversy involving the illegal sale of state land and is being probed by a high-level organised crime task team, led by the Hawks.

It's part of an investigation into at least 11 cases involving dealings with state- owned land worth about R1 billion.

Meek became an accused party in the investigations after Dimension Data, a Joburg-based global ICT company, laid a criminal complaint in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca) against Meek at the Sandton police station on Friday, September 14.

The Hawks, three members of the Gauteng organised crime office as well as private investigator Chad Thomas from IRS Forensic Investigations, are involved in the investigation.

Thomas said the team was also investigating theft and the illegal sale of other stateowned land - council, provincial and national.

"We are investigating the illegal or irregular sale of state land dating as far back as 1998, which includes houses, open stands, parks and even golf courses," said Thomas.

"New cases come to the fore on a weekly basis and the amount of money defrauded from the state could well be in excess of R1bn. Suspects include other estate agents, government employees, prominent businessmen and politicians."

In the Rawson matter, it's alleged that Meek, who heads one of the group's 150 branches, unlawfully sold a 11 000m property, which belongs to "the Republic of South Africa" to Dimension Data in Bryanston for R9.75m, said Dimension Data's attorney, Peter van Niekerk, the senior partner of Mahons Attorneys.

Van Niekerk told Weekend Argus that Meek approached Dimension Data in December 2007 to buy the land, which they did in January 2008.

Dimension Data was informed the transfer was progressing through different levels of authorisation. But by 2010, Dimension Data had still not received the title deed, despite being informed that the transfer had taken place.

When Dimension Data checked at the Deeds Office, a deeds search showed the property was still registered in the name of the "Republic of South Africa".

"It was then apparent that Dimension Data had been subjected to fraud and we started legal action," said Van Niekerk.

Although Dimension Data was subsequently compensated by the Attorneys Fidelity Fund and steps were taken against attorney Edwin Maringa, who arranged the deal, including the transfer, Dimension Data claims it is still owed an amount of R2.475m by the Bryanston branch.

Maringa has been suspended from practising and an application to have him struck from the roll of attorneys is still pending.

"Rawson Properties refused to pay this amount and our client then proceeded with a civil action in the Gauteng High Court to recover the money. A criminal complaint has also been laid with the Hawks," Van Niekerk said.

Meek said he was aware of the criminal complaint as well as the investigation into the deal. He described it as a matter of "great concern".

He said he obtained legal advice not to pay the R2.475m to Dimension Data.

Explaining the saga, he said his agency was approached five years ago to sell the state property.

At the time, he said, the state was off-loading several properties in preparation for the Fifa Soccer World Cup 2010 and the Gautrain.

In September, 2009, Maringa informed Meek that the property was transferred to Dimension Data, Meek said.

Dimension Data had been confirmed as the new owner on the Joburg City Council's website in May this year and Meek said he handed these documents to investigators last week.

Lightstone, a company providing integrated knowledge solutions, also confirmed to Meek that the property was registered in Dimension Data's name.

However, it has since emerged, following many consultations, that "it seems an underhanded transaction happened and the transaction could possibly be fraudulent".

Meek said he had been led to believe it was a "bona fide" transaction, but now it seemed "we've been scammed".

"We were alerted by the buyer who tried to get hold of the title deeds. It showed they're not the owner, but the 'Republic of South Africa' is the owner," Meek said.

  • Other cases of irregular or illegal sales of state land under investigation include:

  • Thirty-three pieces of land in Joburg's northern suburbs;

  • The sale of state land for residential development in Midvaal;

  • The sale of three golf courses known as Huddle Park in Linksfield, Joburg, for R45m;

  • The sale of various properties by Johannesburg Property Company;

  • The sale of Gosforth Park and Newmarket race courses, which are believed to be jointly owned by racing trusts and the Gauteng provincial government;

  • The occupation and development of land in Ferrivale, Nigel, which belongs to the Ekurhuleni metro council;

  • The sale of council land comprising a dam in Ekurhuleni;

  • The sale of a portion of the Kingfisher Nature Reserve by the Johannesburg Property Company;

  • The attempted rezoning and attempted sale of land managed by the Johannesburg Parks and Recreation Department, including Mushroom Park in Sandton;

  • The sale of properties in Gallo Manor, Sandown, Parkhurst and Edenberg;

  • The attempted sale and illegal occupation of Department of Public Works land in Linksfield in Joburg.

    Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition)

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