Evidence ‘inaccurate and defamatory’

2011-07-07 00:00

VENN Nemeth and Hart (VNH) director, Guy Smith, yesterday tore into evidence on his firm’s property dealings in the uMngeni Municipality, describing it as riddled with inaccuracies, defamatory and libelous.

Smith was responding to allegations made by DA Councillor, Tim Lindsay-White, to the Commission of Inquiry into the affairs of uMngeni Municipality.

The allegations concern VNH’s involvement in the ownership structure of the Gowrie and Garlington property developments in Nottingham Road and Hilton respectively; the alleged undervaluation of properties in these developments and outstanding rates owed.

On the layers of trusts that form part of the ownership, Smith said the trusts were around for a long time, and were public knowledge. They were not created to conceal anything, but to to be tax-efficient structures. He went on to show that many of the trusts were owned by individuals not linked to the law firm and that the firm owned far fewer properties on the developments than were indicated in Lindsay-White’s documents. According to Smith, VNH was linked to 23 properties on the three developments — Gowrie Farm, Gowrie Village and Garlington — and not over 200 as intimated by Lindsay-White.

His evidence highlighted the administrative mess in the municipality that gave rise to many of the rates queries. Smith told the commission of difficulties getting rates clearance certificates from the municipality, which can take over five months; paperwork delays in property transfers; and described queries that can take years to resolve.

“A lot of the frustration clearing up rates issues is that properties were sold years ago, but the municipality never changed its records,” said Smith. On one property that had never been subdivided they were getting 30 different accounts, and in another instance, 23 accounts were sent on a property that they did not know of.

With regard to the allegation of undervaluations on the properties, Smith said that as developers they were not involved after a plot of land was sold to an owner, so could not benefit from undervaluations.

Smith accused Lindsay-White of gross inaccuracies saying that in a lot of his schedules the councillor took the valuation of vacant land and put the value of a house on it when in fact no house was built on the property.

There were also instances where land was subdivided and when a plot was sold this was not subtracted from the parent plot and the difference carried onto the supplementary roll.

He added that the schedules also gave an impression that a huge amount of rates were owed, but did not take into account queries and adjustments. Smith called the submission by Lindsay-White grossly inaccurate and tabled for the sole purpose of misleading the commission.

It was defamatory and libelous with little proper care taken to check facts. It was done to defame or show VNH in a bad light ... “in anticipation that it will not be challenged,” Smith said.




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