More than 1 700 people invested their savings in a scheme they now believe was fraudulent, writes Sarah Evans.
The wife of controversial politician John Block ran a "fraudulent" investment scheme that made off with nearly R5-million belonging to members of a Gauteng stokvel, papers filed in the Northern Cape High Court have alleged.
Noluthando Block is opposing the stokvel's application, saying its allegations against her are "defamatory, vexatious, scandalous or irrelevant and should be ignored, and I reserve my rights in full".
She is the sole director of Queenswood Trading, an entity in which the Thuthukani Stokvel invested millions during 2011. Thuthukani has launched an application to have Queenswood's assets wound up and placed under the custodianship of the court until a provisional liquidator is appointed.
The stokvel has 1732 members, who allege that they have lost their savings through Block's scheme.
The Diamond Fields Advertiser reported in 2012 that another Queenswood investor had also complained of losing millions through the scheme.
Leaked bank details show that two payments of more than R2-million each were invested with Queenswood and subsequently reinvested with a company called Macro Trade. The investor claimed not to have agreed to this.
Email correspondence between Thuthukani and Queenswood shows that when the stokvel inquired about the status of the investment, it was directed to Macro Trade's website. The website no longer operates and the company is not registered in South Africa.
According to court papers filed last year, the stokvel's members aimed to use their return on investments for various expenses including funerals, education and entertainment. The agreement between Block and the stokvel stipulated that Thuthukani would invest money with Queenswood each month. In return, it would receive monthly interest of 30% if the total amount invested was less than R2-million and 35% if it exceeded that amount.
The interest was to be paid into Thuthukani's bank account on the 15th of each month. After the first six months, Queenswood was supposed to refund Thuthukani's capital investments in monthly instalments.
Thuthukani representative Walter Ndinisa alleges that between January 26 2011 and May 25 2011, the stokvel made investments with Queenswood totalling R4.2million. This is confirmed by bank statements.
During May 2011, Ndinisa contacted Block to complain that the interest payments were erratic – sometimes more than had been agreed to, and sometimes less. Thuthukani alleges that Block then agreed on a new payment plan, whereby R750 000 would be paid on the 15th of each month and R595 000 on the 30th from July 2011.
During July and August 2011, Block paid about R2.6-million into Thuthukani's bank account. But by September, the payouts had allegedly fallen by more than half, with Queenswood making two payments of R300 000 each that month.
The following month, the stok-vel's lawyers wrote to Queenswood, threatening civil action and demanding to see its Financial Services Board (FSB) registration number. Queenswood denied any liability.
Thuthukani alleges that, to date, Queenswood has failed or refused to pay out the entire R4.2-million in capital and R2.7-million in interest.
This is "sufficient proof" that Queenswood is unable to pay its debts, according to Thuthukani's liquidation application.
The FSB has confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that Queenswood is not listed on its database as a registered financial services provider.
In court papers, Ndinisa says that Block's failure to comply with the relevant legislation indicates that she "conducts her business recklessly and/or fraudulently, with gross negligence or with the intent to defraud … or for fraudulent purposes … I am advised that [Block] should be criminally liable for fraudulent activities relating to Queenswood Trading."
In her responding affidavit, Block says Thuthukani was not her client and that she dealt with Ndinisa on the understanding that he was investing his own money. She denied owing him anything.
Block later reported Thuthukani to the South African Revenue Service, claiming it is not properly registered.
"The applicant [Thuthukani] is unknown to the respondents [Queenswood and Block] and accordingly does not exist," she claims.
She did not respond to questions from the M&G.