A married couple and their former partner in a cash-loan business which they ran at Oranjemund before it collapsed in 2006 have been found guilty on 513 criminal charges, including 256 counts of fraud, in the Windhoek High Court.
Judge Alfred Siboleka convicted Melanie (49) and Jeremia van Niekerk (52) and their former business partner, Charles van Rensburg (48), on Tuesday on 256 counts of fraud, 256 charges of conducting a banking business without authorisation, and one count of recklessly or fraudulently carrying on a business.
The judge found that they acted with a common purpose when they operated a cash-loan business that accepted millions of Namibia dollars in deposits from the public and promised to pay unusually high interest rates on the money invested with them.
The Van Niekerks and Van Rensburg, who were operating the close corporation West Coast Financial Aid, while Mrs Van Niekerk also ran an unregistered cash-loan business, Mias Micro-Lending, knew very well that they should have had a banking licence to accept deposits of money from the public, judge Siboleka said in his judgement.
He also commented that the evidence showed beyond doubt that West Coast Financial Aid and Mias Micro-Lending "were merely scam cash loans carefully planned to con investors of their cash". Judge Siboleka found that the three accused defrauded investors of a total of about N$7 million.
The Van Niekerks and Van Rensburg denied guilt on all 513 charges at the start of their trial in February 2015.
The prosecution alleged that they operated an illegal pyramid investment scheme at Oranjemund from February 2004 to August 2006, when they solicited cash deposits totalling more than N$11,4 million from the public by promising implausibly high returns, ranging between seven and 15% a month, to people who were willing to invest in their scheme.
In his judgement, judge Siboleka summarised the testimony of 64 investors.
Some of them told the court that while they received interest on the money they invested with West Coast Financial Aid or Mias Micro-Lending, their investment capital was never returned to them. Some of the investors testified that they did not receive interest on their investment, and also did not get their capital back. In some instances, though, the total interest that investors received was more than the initial amount they had invested, but according to the investors the capital they initially invested was not returned to them as promised.
Melanie van Niekerk told the court during her testimony that she realised around June 2006 that the two businesses were experiencing serious cash flow problems. Following that realisation, she continued to actively solicit new investments from the public, keeping investors in the dark about the situation the businesses were in, judge Siboleka recounted.
That continued soliciting of new investments, while the financial problems of the businesses were being suppressed, was "vividly fraudulent to the core", the judge commented. It was clear that investors were duped from the beginning by false promises of high interest rates that were unlikely to be fulfilled, he said.
Having delivered his verdict, judge Siboleka withdrew the bail of Van Rensburg and the Van Niekerks, and ordered that they be kept in custody until their return to court for a pre-sentence hearing on 4 June.
Deputy prosecutor general Ingrid Husselmann is representing the state. The Van Niekerks are represented by defence lawyer Christie Mostert, while Johan van Vuuren has been handling Van Rensburg's defence.