Bizarre twist in R200 million business scam

2014-09-07 17:00

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The latest bizarre twist in a R200 million local business scam – which included a Fokker F28 plane that once belonged to Sir Richard Branson – involves a Cape Town lawyer accused of stealing a dead man’s identity.

Well known in Cape Town’s legal circles, attorney Mohamed Ismail Patel drives a white Bentley with a personalised registration plate that reads: “PATEL1 WP”.

He introduces himself as the national secretary of the Association for the Advancement of Black Insolvency Practitioners in SA, and claims to have qualifications from the University of the Western Cape, the University of South Africa and the University of Pretoria.

Allegations have surfaced, however, that Patel fabricated his qualifications by assuming the identity of a “Patel Muhamed” – a legitimately registered lawyer who died in 2006 – and then fraudulently registered as an attorney with the Cape Law Society.

“I noticed he has two ID numbers and two names. This raised some questions, so I asked for a background check,” said Leonard Katz, a director at the giant law firm ENSafrica.

The background check on Patel forms part of a knee-high stack of legal documents detailing a complicated airline fraud scheme filed at the Western Cape High Court.

Patel is one of two liquidators appointed to unbundle the African Airlines Investments scheme that saw top businessmen – including Shoprite chairman Christo Wiese, former Ajax Cape Town boss John Comitis, Remgro CEO Jannie Durand and property developer Paul Berman – fleeced of millions by Stellenbosch financial adviser Pieter Louw.

Louw was arrested in 2010 after Comitis raised the red flag, laying criminal charges against him at the Sea Point Police Station. But he was released soon after on R30?000 bail.

Some of the investors are still fighting to get their money back as the liquidation of Louw’s company, Kingsfield Aviation, continues.

In an urgent application signed in June, Berman asks that Patel be removed as a liquidator from the case.

He accuses Patel of “rank dishonesty and gross irregular behaviour”, including secret meetings with businessmen linked to Louw.

He also cites the background check: “I am alarmed to note that Patel has apparently assumed the identity of a deceased person by the name of Patel Muhamed who, according to the deceased’s identity number, was born on April 26 1949.

Patel’s date of birth is August 29 1944, according to his own documentation and his ‘LinkedIn’ profile.

“I respectfully submit that Patel does not have the legal qualification he claims to hold,” writes Berman, who is married to Pick n Pay founder Raymond Ackerman’s daughter Suzanne.

Although Patel failed to respond to requests for comment this week, Berman’s affidavit says Patel blames “disorganisation” on the part of the department of home affairs for what appears to be his double identity.

What’s more, Patel, or Patel Muhamed, it is unclear exactly which individual has a criminal record involving illicit uncut diamond trading.

Acting on behalf of Berman, Katz has reported Patel to the Cape Law Society. Patel’s liquidator’s removal application will be heard next month.

Meanwhile, despite a damning report by retired Judge Meyer Joffe – which put

Louw “at the centre of a web of deceit”, and alluded to victims of Louw’s “machinations” – Louw is believed to be living somewhere in the Cape Winelands.

Apparently the scam involving 15 jet aircraft – including two Boeing 727s and the Fokker F28 plane – worked like a Ponzi scheme: income was generated through new investors buying airplanes via a web of companies which, instead of earning money flying passengers around sub-Saharan Africa, were abandoned to rust at airports, including Lanseria.

This while investors were fed bogus reports.

The scam included a Fokker F28 plane that once belonged to Sir Richard Branson.

Court papers detailed how a plane co-purchased by Wiese was “stuck” in Miami for months, with US sellers refusing to release it due to outstanding money.

The Industrial Development Corporation also put R61?million into the scheme.

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