Fidentia boss pushes his luck

2012-04-14 15:46

Disgraced former head of Fidentia J Arthur Brown bought more time for his date with justice on Friday while his victims still struggle to survive.

Brown is facing trial for making off with more than R1 billion in pension funds belonging to people like Mambhele Lolwana, one of thousands of pension beneficiaries living in the rural Transkei in the Eastern Cape.

On Friday, Brown’s fraud, corruption and theft trial was again postponed in a Cape Town court, athough his legal tactics could land him back in jail.

But the legal wrangling in Cape Town was a world away for Lolwana, who used to rely on the pension payments after her husband died from an illness contracted in the mines.

“I have five children and none of them could pursue their studies any further because we didn’t get what was due to us,” she said.

“I live in a village on a government grant, which is just enough to get us by. The place I live in was dilapidated and I hoped that some day we would get our money and build a proper home. Mr Brown robbed us of a decent life and good future for our children.”

She said she and many other widows, part of the Ex-Mineworkers’ Union, which invested nearly R800 million with Fidentia, have struggled to make ends meet and rely on temporary jobs.

Lolwana said they had all ­given up any hope of a better life and wish Brown would explain why they had been robbed of their livelihood.

During a court appearance on Friday, the Western Cape High Court heard that Brown had violated his bail conditions by issuing summonses to state witnesses and other people involved in the winding-up of Fidentia Asset Management, of which he was the managing director, and related companies.

In terms of his bail conditions, neither he nor his representatives may contact state witnesses before his criminal trial.

Prosecutor Jannie van Vuuren told Western Cape Judge ­President John Hlophe that the state was “considering its options” to have Brown’s bail revoked, as his legal team had persisted in contacting state witnesses after issuing the summonses, despite warnings that such contact was in violation of bail conditions.

The summonses have also met with fierce resistance from the Financial Services Board (FSB), which launched an urgent application in the Western Cape High Court last week to have them set aside.

Cape Town Regional Court magistrate Wilma van der Merwe remarked during another court appearance of Brown last week that she had never seen such a thing during her 20 years on the Bench.

In one of the summonses, Brown demanded records of payments by the FSB to the three state advocates prosecuting Brown and his accomplices, the two court-appointed curators, three investigating officers “or any other member of the Scorpions or the Hawks” – a thinly veiled accusation of corruption against the FSB.

It was a six-month investigation by the FSB into Fidentia’s affairs in 2006 that set Brown’s prosecution in motion.

He is due to face nine charges of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering involving R1.3 billion in the Western Cape High Court later this year. The funds were in the hands of Brown’s company, Fidentia Asset Management, when they went missing.

The largest portion of the ­missing money was more than R1 billion of pension money held in trust for beneficiaries of the Mineworkers’ Provident Fund – widows and orphans of deceased mine workers.

On Friday Van Vuuren set out the extent of the numerous ­delays and obstructions that have prevented Brown’s trial from going ahead, including seven changes in Brown’s legal representation and his launching two applications for a stay of prosecution, one abandoned and one unsuccessful.

In the more than five years since first being arrested, Brown has yet to answer to a single charge relating to the disappearance of the money, even though his accountant, Graham Maddock, has been released into house arrest after pleading guilty to charges relating to Fidentia.

Brown, and others sympathetic to him, have launched numerous civil actions questioning the legality of efforts by court-appointed curators to sell Fidentia’s numerous assets in an attempt to recover investors’ funds.

Last month he failed in ­another court application in the Western Cape High Court to stop the payout to Fidentia investors of more than R100 million recovered by curators.

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