R699 man’s high life

2014-07-13 15:00

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Albert Venter – the man at the helm of the controversial “R699 per month” car scheme – leads a lavish life which many of his customers can only dream of.

Parked behind glass garage doors visible from the street outside his palatial home in the Pretoria suburb of Mooikloof, are his Ferrari FF, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S, Maserati Spyder and Nissan Infiniti SUV.

Venter started the Satinsky general dealership in 2006 and put the “R699 per month” scheme on the market in 2008.

Its huge success allowed him to take regular extravagant overseas holidays to Britain and Switzerland, and hire a butler who prepares him healthy meals.

But now the scheme, in which thousands of South African car owners have participated and which is run by Venter’s company, is on the verge of collapse.

Two weeks ago Wesbank CEO Chris de Kock described it bluntly as a pyramid scheme. But unlike Wesbank, which in 2011 refused to do business with Satinsky, other banks have until recently been happy to do so.

Satinsky now blames Hong Kong-based company, Blue Lakes Trading and Promotions, for its problems.

Satinsky says it was only acting as a “managing agent” for Blue Lakes in South Africa, but Venter’s lawyer, Craig Thompson, and Thompson’s father-in-law, former apartheid-era spy Gerard Ludi, are the respective representative and director of Blue Lakes.

Ludi told City Press’ sister publication Rapport that Blue Lake’s business model is “definitely not a pyramid scheme”. He insists the company actually exists.

“The concept was imported to South Africa from China. We had high hopes that it would work here and could then be exported to the rest of the world,” Ludi said. He said the Chinese sponsors withdrew because

of negative publicity and corruption in the scheme.

“I’m bitterly disappointed with the results,” he said.

Satinsky’s clients have had serious problems over the past few months. The way the scheme works is that car owners get a significant portion of their monthly instalment back by showing that they have travelled a certain number of kilometres in their vehicles, which are covered in advertising.

Now that the scheme has collapsed, they have not been receiving their full rebates and face having to pay the full monthly instalments on their vehicles. Venter though continues to live a luxurious lifestyle.

Deeds office records reveal that he bought his Mooikloof home for R11.5?million in December 2011. He added

to the already tight security in the gated estate by building huge walls and erecting a guardhouse at the entrance which is staffed around the clock. His eight bedrooms look on to a swimming pool and a vast living area features two dining rooms, a private gym, a mini theatre that can seat 16 people and a bar.

City Press interviewed three Satinsky employees who spoke on condition of anonymity. One said that on average, about 80 cars a month were sold in 2009, but by 2012 this number had grown to 800. Another said that aside from overseas trips where he stayed in top hotels, Venter travelled to Knysna where “his accommodation cost no less than R15?000 per night”.

“At this time he became very health conscious. He appointed a personal butler to prepare healthy food for him,” the staff member said.

Venter then came to work with pearly white teeth. “It was clear he had had his face worked on,” he added.

But last November, Satinsky’s financial position changed drastically when Absa refused to continue its involvement with the company. The bank now says the decision was based on “commercial reasons”.

The business was further harmed when the Motor Finance Corporation (MFC), a division of Nedbank’s auto financing, set up tighter credit controls. It became difficult for Satinsky to attract new customers.

Another employee said Satinsky then had to cut staff and the call centre that used to have 54 agents now only had 10. They tried to stop the gaps by making random payments to customers, the employee said.

Last month, hordes of angry customers arrived at the office and call centre in Pretoria East to demand their money. “We had to placate them with promises. He now has a full-time personal bodyguard.”

In June, Satinsky moved to new offices with security gates in the suburb of Faerie Glen, where bouncers stopped the public from entering. “Customers were hysterical with rage at being ignored,” said an employee. “Many of them are now advising each other on Facebook about ways to get rid of the advertising.”

Venter himself has not been seen at his office since March 1, another colleague said.

MFC and Standard Bank only followed Absa’s example last Friday and Monday respectively, and refused to continue to be involved with Satinsky.

When reporters from City Press’ sister publication Rapport visited Venter’s house on Friday, a guard threatened to kill them and chased them away. Venter refused to answer any questions by phone.

Last week he sent a WhatsApp message to several people. It read: “It was a privilege to see you in action. Appreciate everything you have done. Thx. Thanx I dropped you?... buy [sic].”

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