Police probe allegations of pension theft

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Johannesburg - Allegations of theft, fraud and bribery have been levelled at members of one of the biggest pension fund schemes in the country – leading to fears that millions of rand of workers’ money has allegedly disappeared.

Police have confirmed they are investigating two cases related to SALT Employee Benefits (Salt EB), a pension fund administrator contracted by the Road Freight Logistics Industry Fund (RFLIF).

Aside from the police investigation, the Financial Services Board, a regulatory body for the industry, has launched its own investigation after receiving complaints about the management of the fund.

Forensic investigator at IRS Forensic Investigations Chad Thomas is part of one of the probes being handled by the police.

In a statement Thomas made to the police he said it was his opinion that bribes were paid and there was fraud and theft involving a company linked to Salt EB, SALT Invest Holdings.

Thomas said his company was hired by Gawie Cillie from Silvercrest Retirement Fund Administrators (the previous company that managed the fund) to investigate the awarding of fund management contracts to Salt EB by the RFLIF.

The fund contract was awarded to Salt EB in 2012.

Thomas said in his statement that during his investigation he was told that one of the reasons Silvercrest was replaced was that they were charging a monthly management fee of R13 a member and the RFLIF said Salt EB was charging 25 cents less per member.

Thomas said he discovered that Salt EB was allegedly charging R19 a member, a far higher fee than the previous administrator.

Thomas also said in the affidavit that Salt EB was allegedly paid R25 million for data reconstruction of the fund members. But Thomas said there was an allegation this reconstruction had not taken place.

During his investigation Thomas said that current Salt EB chief executive Eddie Strydom informed him that previous boss Donnie Walker had allegedly “stolen in excess of R3 million from the company”, the affidavit said.

Thomas confirmed that the docket was being investigated by the Joburg branch of the Specialist Commercial Crimes Unit which falls under the Hawks.

“I think it is very important that the members of the fund, the workers and their beneficiaries, are aware of what’s happening to their fund,” Thomas said.

In a complaint sent to the Financial Services Board by Walker at the end of last year, Walker said: “Regrettably, the situation at Salt EB continues to haemorrhage. This poses a grave danger to both shareholders, employees and clients of Salt EB.”

He raises concerns in the letter that funds from the trust account may have been misappropriated.

Spokesman for the Financial Services Board Tembisa Marele said the board was investigating the matter and could make no further comment at this stage. Strydom refused to comment.

In legal letters sent to The Star, the attorney representing Salt EB, Len Cowan, said it would not comment on the allegations.

Principal officer of the RFLIF Joe Letswalo denied any wrongdoing and said Salt EB was appointed following an extensive tender process verified by an external auditor.

Letswalo said the data reconstruction process was ongoing and near completion. Independent auditors were monitoring this process.

Walker said the various SALT funds held in excess of R2.5 billion in assets and represented the retirement futures of thousands of employees who were financially dependent on their sound administration.

He said there was “a raging shareholder dispute, which is presently the subject of an arbitration”.

Walker said after his departure from the company he was charged “on spurious grounds for misappropriation of company funds”.

The Financial Services Board subsequently debarred Walker.

“SALT has used the debarment to attempt to ruin me professionally and financially,” Walker said.

He confirmed that criminal charges had been laid against him by Strydom and he had been informed that a hit man had been sent to “sort me out”.

He added: “My personal safety is a matter of grave concern.” - The Star

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