Rotten deals follow Cosmo Fruit

Ioannis Ntinos lives in a Camps Bay condo, zips around in luxury German cars in Cape Town and next week is scheduled to travel to a fruit traders’ expo in Germany to meet potential clients.

Yet his company, Cosmo Fruit, was billed “hopelessly insolvent” by the high court in Cape Town and liquidated. An avalanche of creditors, hell-bent on recovering losses they claim to have incurred as a result of their dealings with his company, continue to pursue him.

Documents allege creditors are from as far afield as India, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Greece.

Among his “victims” is a small business owner who suffered a R2-million loss when Ntinos allegedly short-changed her on delivery of a consignment of Valencia oranges.

This was to be the first fruit export deal for Mendiswa Mzamane, the owner of Razoscan, a small company in the agriculture sector, which secured a loan from a government agency for this transaction, and for which Mzamane stood surety. She had contracted Ntinos to supply the oranges for her client in Dubai.

But Ntinos delivered just one of 15 containers that her bank had paid him to deliver to a supermarket chain in Dubai.

The Hawks have confirmed they are investigating a R2-million fraud case against Ntinos, a Greek citizen with permanent residence in South Africa, following a complaint by Mzamane.

Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the investigation was “at an advanced stage”.

Mzamane’s company was granted a loan by the Small Enterprise Funding Agency (Sefa), which falls under the department of small business development.

As soon as Sefa concluded its due diligence, the money was released to her bank, which in turn paid Ntinos for the shipment.

But the Dubai client refused to pay because of the failure to deliver 14 containers.

Now Mzamane finds herself in default for the loan. Her complaint even reached the ears of MPs last year when Parliament heard questions on the matter after Mzamane complained to Small Business Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu.

This week Mzamane told the Mail & Guardian that her business unravelled because of the transaction involving Ntinos and his company.

“Initially there were delays with my funding but then he started calling Sefa directly, and later even my bank. Instead my business suffered,” Mzamane said.

Sefa, citing client confidentiality, declined to answer questions about Mzamane’s loan or whether the agency would explore stepping into the breach as a creditor.

But, in a short statement, it confirmed that it was pursuing Mzamane’s company over non-payment of the loan, despite being aware of her allegations.

“We are not in a position to respond to any questions … the matter is still before the courts, meaning that the matter is sub judice and [we] do not want to prejudice the case.”

Ntinos was the owner of Cosmo Fruit, a company in the fruit import/export trade, which folded in December when Bet El Fruits obtained a liquidation order for just over R260 000 in unpaid debt. Bet El Fruit was one of several alleged creditors owed amounts ranging from R150 000 to R2.8-million, all of which Ntinos disputes, according to papers filed in the liquidation case.

Ntinos declined to respond to questions from the M&G about the case involving Mzamane. But in court papers he dismissed Bet El Fruit’s claim against him as “crude and opportunistic”, arguing that he had a counterclaim against the company.

But acting judge Mark Sher, citing lack of evidence, granted the liquidation order. He also noted that Ntinos attached some 220 pages of annexures in the liquidation matter, most of which were irrelevant to the

“The impression I was left with was that everything but the proverbial kitchen sink was just thrown in, in the hope that it might … strengthen the respondent’s case.”

But “diatribe and bluster” — the judge’s description of Ntinos’s bid to get out of the mess — appears to have got him only so far. He now also faces the prospect of a high court master’s enquiry into his company’s financial dealings in the months before and after the liquidation of his company.

It is estimated that creditors may be owed in the region of R25-million, but the only tangible assets identified by liquidators are one BMW X6 still under finance and office furniture valued at R10 000. Ntinos lives in rented beachfront property in Cape Town’s money belt suburb of Camps Bay.

The liquidator, Jochen Eckhoff of Summit Trust, confirmed that liquidators were hunting for assets. He said the final liquidation was granted on October 12 and that a meeting of creditors was scheduled for later this month. That meeting, Eckhoff said, would probably determine the need for experts to assist in a forensic investigation into recoverable assets.

He confirmed that “substantial” transactions that took place in the company’s bank accounts prior to his appointment are being investigated.

Attorney Chris Nel, who represents two other companies drawn into the debacle, said Cosmo Fruit owes his clients in excess of R2-million.

Nel’s clients opted for a criminal investigation, which they hoped would delve into allegations that Ntinos intentionally misrepresented facts and took advances for fruit that was never shipped.

“Sworn statements to this effect have been handed to police investigators,” Nel said.

Several other creditors have compiled a dossier of what they believe to be evidence of financial transactions before and after the liquidation of Cosmo Fruit, which they hope will yield money owed to them.

One of these creditors, who asked not to be identified, said he and the others had found information on foreign bank accounts, and international transfers from Ntinos’s South African bank accounts to the Loyal Bank in the offshore tax haven of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Charles Schwab, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, among others. None of these has been verified by investigators.

Several attempts to obtain comment from Ntinos about these claims and whether he acted in good faith in the run-up to the liquidation of his company were unsuccessful.

Ntinos may have lost one company but it appears that it is business as usual for at least one of his others.

C&F International, of which he is the sole director, forked out more than R400 000 for registration at Fruit Logistica 2017, a fruit traders’ exhibition to be held in Germany. C&F International, listing its Cape Town address and bearing the Cosmo Fruit logo, is listed on the event’s website. It states: “We are satisfied that all our efforts come to fruition.”

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