Behind facade, con man lived the high life

2012-08-04 14:55

WITH a Bible in one hand, an ex-cop smiled and swindled thousands of investors out of hundreds of millions of rands while living the life of the super-rich for more than a decade.

The story of Herman Pretorius (55), is that of a man who professed to have been a pillar of strength in his community and church, while siphoning off a fortune from investors through a network of companies, close corporations, trusts and schemes, which he mismanaged.

Pretorius, the brain behind the Abante group and now infamous Relative Value Arbitrage Fund (RVAF), was cremated this week.

He died last Thursday after having apparently shot his former partner and head of the Basileus group, Julian Williams as the pair were arguing about money. He then shot himself in the head.

Court documents claim that R1.8 billion, which had been invested by approximately 3 000 investors in the RVAF trust fund, is now missing.

Two ministers, the Dutch Reformed Church’s Braam Hanekom and Rod Botsis of the Presbyterian Church, conducted Pretorius’ funeral service in Welgemoed, Bellville this week as the horror of the reality facing investors emerged.

But the ministers painted another picture. Botsis told of how Pretorius had relocated a hundred homeless people “from the streets and ditches” into houses.

At his funeral Pretorius was described as a popular and loved family and community man who contributed to the needy.

City Press was told how Pretorius had donated R120 000 “of his own money” towards having a Dutch Reformed Church building in the Western Cape town of Piketberg painted last year.

But there was plenty of cash left over for Pretorius.

He drove an Aston Martin sports car and lived in two luxurious houses in Welgemoed, outside Cape Town and Voëlklip in Hermanus.

The Hermanus house, designed by three architects, features on the front page of the latest House & Leisure glossy magazine.

For the investors the truth is dawning that they may have lost everything.

A day after Pretorius’ funeral the remaining staff of Abante had to lock the doors and hide in the offices when angry investors descended on the company’s head office in Bellville.

The police were later called in.

One investor shouted: “Tharine (Swart), I know you are inside. You were quick to take the money but now you are hiding away. Your fat arse is going to land in jail.”

Swart was one of Pretorius’ most trusted associates. She did not respond to repeated requests for comment this week.

The scale of Pretorius’ dubious business practice was exposed on Wednesday after the Mostert & Bosman firm of attorneys succeeded in an application for the provisional liquidation of the RVAF Trust.

In an affidavit, the sole surviving trustee, Eduard Brand, said Pretorius controlled everything and that there was almost nothing left of the R1,8 billion.

Legal experts said the web of irregularities surrounding RVAF could see Brand facing a criminal investigation and that it could also have tax implications for investors who, over the years, had received “interest” from the trust.

Mostert & Bosman’s Pierre du Toit said the role of the Financial Services Board should also be questioned. “How could this have been allowed to carry on for so long?”

The court papers described the trust as a “so-called pyramid scheme”. Legal experts also warned that monies could retrospectively be claimed from investors once the trust was finally sequestrated.

Despite the mounting evidence, investors refuse to believe that all their money has probably disappeared.

One investor, Jaco van der Merwe, said he had R1 million invested with Absa but in 2008, with the recession, the value decreased to just over R800 000.

He withdrew his money from Absa and placed it in RVAF where, in three years, it appeared to have doubled.

“I do not know what I now have,” he said.

Eric Jordaan, who invested several million rand, said he had wanted to retire at 64. “Now I will have to work until I am 70,” he said.

Brand and Swart have not answered their telephone since Tuesday and the Abante head office was closed this week.

When City Press visited the offices, boxes full of files stood to one side while letters from investors wanting to withdraw their money were piling up.

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