Farmers paid for damage

2014-02-25 00:00

FAILURE by the state to take care of a valuable cattle herd seized by the Asset Forfeiture Unit has resulted in R300 000 damages being awarded to Lions River farmers Anil, Pramash and Heamedlall “Tom” Sewraj.

The settlement, which was made an order of court by Judge Rashid Vahed in the Pietermaritzburg high court yesterday, heralds the end of a series of legal battles spanning more than a decade.

The money is to be paid to compensate the three brothers after their cattle herd was seized by the Asset forfeiture Unit in September 2003 and returned less than a year later in an emaciated, starving state.

The brothers had sued the National Director of Public Prosecutions, the Minister of Justice and court-appointed curator Jeremy Diedericks for R481 000 but after talks at the Pietermaritzburg high court yesterday they agreed to settle for payment of R300 000, plus legal costs.

The trio who have been involved in farming and dealing in cattle in the Lions River district their whole lives, and still are, told The Witness they were relieved the dispute had ended after 11 stressful years.

But they were “not completely satisfied” with the award.

They would have been happier had the state agreed to pay the full amount, they said.

However, their attorney, Siva Chetty, viewed the outcome as a triumph for the brothers who, he said, had once been painted as “thugs” and have now been completely vindicated.

The state will also pay all the legal costs that were incurred.

According to court papers, the brothers — one of whom, Anil, is a policeman — were charged in 2003 with alleged involvement in a stock theft syndicate said to be linked to theft of 51 head of cattle in Ladysmith between October 2000 and May 2003.

The charges against them were withdrawn the following year.

The NDPP meanwhile obtained a preservation order over their property in August 2003, and on September 10, 2003, members of the Asset Forfeiture moved in to seize 134 head of cattle from their farm, Lutchman’s Lodge at Lions River.

The cattle were entrusted to the care of pound master Bruce Mattison who complained months later that the AFU never paid him the money due for their upkeep, which at one stage totalled almost R500 000.

The brothers eventually won a court order for the return of the cattle in early 2004, but the state failed to comply with it, resulting in contempt of court action being launched.

On May 30, 2004, they eventually got the herd back — 11 head short of the original number seized.

The court papers alleged the animals were “in extremely poor condition, emaciated and diseased”.

The Sewraj brothers said yesterday most of the cattle subsequently recovered though some had needed veterinary treatment.

According to the court papers, the value of the herd at the time it was seized was R594 400. By the time the cattle were returned the herd was worth only R133 200.

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