Vartys 'misused' tiger funds
Johannesburg - Chinese investor Li Quan accused wildlife filmmakers and conservationists John Varty and his brother Dave on Tuesday of allegedly misusing millions of rands of funds meant for their tiger conservation project.
London businesswoman Quan and her husband Stuart Bray told reporters in Johannesburg they gave the Varty brothers about R40m early last year to set up a sanctuary for the tigers.
The sanctuary was going to be located along the Orange River near Philippolis in the Free State and was aimed at rehabilitating highly endangered South China tigers before releasing them back into the wild.
"These men used our money for purposes that were never authorised and prohibited," said Bray, who is an investment banker.
He said that according to a financial report presented by the Vartys' auditors, the brothers spent R5.7m to pay the debts of a private company they owned - Londolozi Production filmmaking company. They spent another R3m on two other businesses.
The Vartys claimed they were loaned the money by Bray, who denies this.
Quan said there was a series of other expenses worth millions of rands, which the brothers incurred out of the project funds.
"We have information at our disposal that Dave took a substantial amount of money to pay a portion of the bond for a luxury apartment in Betty's Bay near Cape Town for his wife.
They also bought, on a monthly basis, groceries and sent them home using a private delivery company."
Quan said in terms of the agreement with the Vartys, the money was going to be used for the procurement of land for the sanctuary and fencing the establishment. The remainder of the money was for stocking the sanctuary with tiger cubs from China.
Once the cubs were trained and had grown, they were going to be sent back to China to be settled in a game reserve that was still to be established.
She said a first batch of tigers, which were expected to arrive in South Africa by June, were going to returned to China in 2008 in time for the Beijing Olympics.
"The cats have been chosen to be a mascot for the games," Quan said.
In terms of the agreement, the Vartys were responsible for managing the sanctuary in South Africa and building an eco-tourism business, offer training to Chinese aspiring to be conservationists and share South African expertise.
The brothers are currently rehabilitating two Bengal tigers in the sanctuary, which were obtained from a Canadian zoo.
The South China tigers project was endorsed by both the South African and Chinese governments.
Tried to kill them
Quan's legal adviser David Leibowitz said in November last year the Vartys pulled out from another agreement with the Chinese government to set up a game reserve in that country.
"Their reason for not endorsing the pact was that they regarded the obligations as too onerous," he said.
"This we found amusing as there were no goal posts shifted."
The Varty brothers alleged in newspaper reports recently Quan had sent people to kill them, their families and the Bengal tigers on their farm.
On March 7, John Varty obtained a court interdict from the Bloemfontein High Court restraining Quan and Bray from harassing them.
The Varty brothers alleged in court they needed an order because they feared for their lives and for the safety of the Bengal tigers.
Leibowitz said: "These allegations are not true.
"We had an agreement that once the tiger cubs arrive in June from China, the Bengal tigers will be sent back to Canada."
He said the Vartys were deliberately distorting facts to deflect attention from the real issue.
"To say Quan is planning to cause them or the Bengal tigers harm is a blatant lie and patently dishonest."
Leibowitz said Bray and Quan have terminated their agreement and association with the Vartys, and would contest the provisional restraining order.
The case would be heard on Wednesday, he said.
"We are no longer interested in their services and we have instead set up a trust, with the assistance of the South African conservation fraternity, to carry out the duties we hired them to do," Leibowitz said.
Meanwhile, an associate of Quan and Bray, said on Monday the two Bengal tigers would threaten the safety of South China tiger cubs once they moved to the sanctuary.
"The presence of the two Bengal tigers flies in the face of the explicit terms of agreement entered into by the Vartys (with Quan and Bray) in respect of that land," said Victoria Hylton of the London-based non-governmental organisation Save China's Tigers.
"It is clear that the Vartys have no legal entitlement to keep those Bengal tigers on the sanctuary. An application has been filed at the court against the Vartys to ensure their immediate and permanent removal of the Bengal tigers from the sanctuary property," Hylton said.
Varty's wife Gillian van Houten said in reaction that the necessary permission from conservation authorities would never be obtained in time to move the South China cubs to the sanctuary by the end of June.
"The agreement (with Quan and Bray) was that we use the Bengal tigers to pilot a tiger rehabilitation project. We are quite happy to work with whatever species of tiger is available."
She said it took them four years to rehabilitate the two Bengal tigers. They still had to complete the final phase of putting the two animals in a camp of 5 000 hectares to determine whether they would be able to sustain themselves through hunting.