Ex-‘Witness’ MD faces 453 fraud charges

2014-10-17 00:00

A FORMER managing director of The Witness, Greg Orsmond, faced 453 charges of fraud when he appeared in the Durban Special Commercial Crimes Court yesterday.

Orsmond was managing director of The Witness Group and Fever Newspaper Group until he was axed in April 2013 after the discovery of “gross negligence” on his part.

An audit and forensic investigation revealed Orsmond had allegedly syphoned off nearly R11 million from the mainstream and community media houses.

The audit resulted in the fraud charges he faced in court yesteday.

Orsmond stepped briefly into the dock yesterday looking dishevelled and crestfallen and was released on bail of R10 000 ahead of his next appearance in November.

His attorney Satch Morgan said Orsmond, a father of three, had co-operated with the investigating officer and would appear in court when required.

In a detailed charge sheet before the court, Orsmond is alleged to have made unauthorised payments amounting to nearly R11 million for his personal gain.

The charge sheet indicated 267 charges related to payments made for the distribution of newspapers, but investigators claim the service was never rendered. Those charges account for nearly R10,5 million.

“Investigation revealed Sky Blue Media [a Fever Newspapers subsidiary] made payments into the account of Trifid Design wherein the accused was the sole proprietor. The accused authorised and requested payment for services that were never rendered,” the charge sheet reads.

The remaining 186 fraud charges arise from alleged ghost payments for distribution the state contends actually went to private building upgrades to his home and which were worth nearly R670 000.

“Investigations revealed this was for private and personal work done on the accused’s farm in Shelly Beach.”

In a handwritten affidavit penned by Orsmond, he indicated he had made an effort to fully co-operate with the investigation team and would continue to do so.

He also said he was employed and his income supported his family.

“I am married and have three children and I am employed and I support my family. If I am granted bail, I undertake to attend court whenever I am requested to do so,” he wrote.

Media24, which now owns The Witness, obtained a high court judgment against Orsmond late in 2013 for R10 119 178,23 (plus interest dating from July 6, 2013).

The judgment was obtained in respect of damages suffered as a result of alleged “reckless or grossly negligent and/or fraudulent conduct” on the part of Orsmond.

Orsmond had since failed to satisfy the judgment or indicate to the sheriff disposable property that was sufficient to satisfy it.

He was found to be insolvent, because his liabilities exceeded his known assets, and placed under sequestration in April this year.

Media24 chief financial officer Manie Mayman said Orsmond’s alleged offences were serious.

“These are serious offences and, in terms of the law, we had to pursue criminal charges in line with the Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act. This is our policy,” he said.

“This had a substantial effect on the company, not just on The Witness, but also Sky Blue Media and it resulted in people being retrenched.

“Because of the financial performance of the companies, largely as a result of the fraud, we had to take steps and as a consequence people were retrenched,” Mayman added.

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