Alleged Ponzi scheme masterminds in court after thousands lose life savings and pensions

Some took out loans, others ploughed their pension payouts and life savings into a "get-rich-quick scheme", but about 3 300 people lost it all.

This was the evidence before Durban Commercial Crimes Court Magistrate Christobelle Mazibuko in the trial of the alleged Ponzi scheme masterminds - Fakazile Mazibuko of Ladysmith and Wilson Gazu of Newcastle.

The financial extent of their crime - which, from what the State alleges, was operating under the name of Trade for Life in northern KwaZulu-Natal - is more than R64m.

The accused have pleaded not guilty to all 6 024 counts, but have admitted to the evidence obtained from searches of their premises, the investment contracts and of their bank accounts.

The charge sheet details how an investigation was initially commissioned by the Reserve Bank into another scheme, Travel Venture International (TVI).

Attorney Johannes Kruger was appointed as an inspector and he in turn appointed Eckhard Volker from Integrated Forensic Accounting Services to probe allegations that the pair had taken "unlawful deposits" from members of the public, whilst they were not registered as a bank.

Read: Cape Town couple convicted for running R278m Ponzi scheme

During that investigation, information relating to the Trade for Life scheme was uncovered.

It is alleged that the pair duped members of the public into giving them "loans", with promised returns of 40% a month. The term of the loan was to be between three and 12 months.

But, it is alleged, that it was simply a scheme where the "snake ate its tail".

"Some received a partial interest payments, whereas others got nothing at all. The capital amounts were not refunded," it is claimed.

"It is alleged that the accused knew that the interest payments were unsustainable and could only be met by securing further deposits from others."

While investigations showed that the accused could have been involved in as many as 14 such schemes, they are only facing charges relating to Trade for Life at this stage.

Volker has completed his evidence.

Under cross-examination, it was suggested to him that the money had been invested in a scheme in Australia which shut down.

Volker said there was no evidence of this.

Victims have also testified. Two teachers, who both took early retirement, said they had lost most of their pensions.

One tearfully told the court that her husband had left her when he found out. The other said she had to go back to work and couldn’t purchase the house she had intended to buy.

The trial continues.

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