'Diplomat' claims immunity in Pinnacle Point probe

The consul-general of the Seychelles in South Africa, Marie-May Kölsch, has claimed diplomatic immunity as the reason for her failure to attend the Pinnacle Point insolvency inquiry in Cape Town on Monday to explain a series of R50 000 payments to her account from the luxury property group.

In her absence, former non-executive director of Pinnacle Point, Ivor Stratford, alleged on Monday afternoon that Kölsch and the honourary consul for the Seychelles in South Africa, Malcolm Gessler, were given $300 000 in an “introductory fee” for a golfing development tender won by the property group in the Seychelles.

However, Kölsch could not be reached for comment by the Mail & Guardian, and would be unavailable for the next three weeks, according to her personal assistant, Dirk Breytenbach.

Gessler told the M&G he had not been subpoenaed but Kölsch had claimed diplomatic immunity, which he said had been her right. “I’m not going to give any comment,” he said.

Advocate Gavin Woodland SC told the inquiry it would have been preferable for Kölsch to explain the payments in person.

“Mrs Kölsch is not a diplomat, she is a consul official. Diplomats have immunity in terms of relevant diplomatic agreements, not consul officials,” said Woodland.

There was evidence that Kölsch had received payments of substantial amounts, and he had wanted her to clarify these issues, said Woodland.

“We summonsed her solely on the basis of the contracts and payments that she had received from the Pinnacle Point Group.” The inquiry has heard that Kölsch had received payments from Pinnacle Point between July 2007 and November 2009.

Woodland said there had been “some difficulty” in serving the summons, which might explain why Kölsch had said it had been served at short notice.

But Kölsch’s non-appearance resulted in Stratford having to explain why she was paid the money, as he had been involved in arranging the deal in 2007.

Stratford said he and Kölsch and Gessler and another Pinnacle Point associate Mervyn Key, who now lives in Perth, had flown to the Seychelles in a Hawker plane belonging to Pinnacle Point to view a proposed site for the golf course.

Prior to Pinnacle Point becoming a listed company, Stratford said he had been involved with the company in an “informal way”.

Golfing estate
“If I was asked by the chief executive officer to assist in any way in the development, then that is what I did,” he said.

Stratford said he had met a team of Seychelles government ministers and looked at a 65-hectare site, and had chartered a helicopter to see it it was feasible to develop a golfing estate on the site.

Pinnacle Point did win the tender, but the golfing estate never took off.

Explaining how Pinnacle Point had heard about the tender that was being put out internationally for the development of the golf course, Stratford said the group had been approached by Kölsch and Gessler about whether it would be interested in tendering for the contract.

At the time, Pinnacle Point was flying high and had won awards for its golfing developments, especially its Mossel Bay beach and golf resort, he said.

Stratford told the inquiry it had not been recorded in a “formal agreement” that Kölsch and Gessler received an introductory fee.

Woodland said he was “mystified” by the payments, as it did not appear that either Kölsch or Gessler had played a meaningful role, yet they were paid a significant amount of money by Pinnacle Point.

In his questioning of Stratford, Woodland read out an email that Kölsch had sent to Stratford: “Dear Ivor, I am getting very old, please do make things difficult for me because I love you,” she allegedly wrote, before continuing to discuss business arrangments in the email.

Stratford countered that Kölsch had a special way of speaking. “Phone Mrs Kölsch, she will call you lovie, darling. That is the way she speaks,” he told the inquiry.

Stratford’s legal respresentatives then requested Stratford be allowed to view other emails which could be discussed at the inquiry on Tuesday, when he will testify again.

But this was declined by Woodland, who said he had not yet decided which emails he would use during the proceedings.

Retired Judge Meyer Joffe, who is hearing the inquiry, declined to rule that the emails be handed over to Stratford’s legal team, but said if they wanted to make further representations to them, they could.

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill

Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country. Read more from Glynnis Underhill

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