CApe Town - In what a judge has described as “the stuff of a poor spy novel”, allegations of collusion – and even a death threat – have surfaced in a court wrangle over the V&A Waterfront sale, South Africa’s biggest single property transaction.
At the centre is Maurice Shawzin, a retired businessman who claims he is owed a “facilitation” fee for his role in brokering the deal.
The Waterfront was sold for R9.7 billion in 2011.
A liquidator, Andre van Heerden, appointed to recover Shawzin’s fee has lodged an action in the Western Cape High Court to claim the money.
According to an affidavit by Van Heerden, Shawzin formed a consultancy partnership with property developer Neill Bernstein (by way of his company Devland Holdings) in 2007 to assist property company Growthpoint, to acquire the Waterfront by rendering certain services.
An oral agreement had been reached that if Growthpoint acquired a substantial portion of the property, it would negotiate the fee amount with the partnership.
In his application, which Growthpoint is opposing, Van Heerden has asked the court to order the negotiations to take place.
The relationship between former business partners Shawzin and Bernstein, in the meantime, has turned “hostile”.
Van Heerden claimed in his affidavit that in an incident in mid-October, Bernstein had become “aggressive” and threatened to kill Shawzin.
The exchange had taken place over the intercom at a luxury apartment complex at the Waterfront where Shawzin lives.
“He was loud and abusive to him and stated that if he did anything which destroyed his relationship with Growthpoint, he would kill Shawzin,” Van Heerden’s affidavit read.
In response to an e-mail request for comment, Bernstein denied threatening to harm Shawzin.
“The purpose of my visit to the V&A Marina apartments was in an attempt to collect personal property,” he said.
Van Heerden further alleged that Growthpoint had induced Bernstein “for reward” to persuade Shawzin to abandon his partnership claim against the company.
In an answering affidavit by Growthpoint chairman Francois Marais, he “strenuously” denied any collusion, saying the allegations were “unsubstantiated, scandalous and defamatory”.
He said he had no knowledge of what had transpired between Bernstein and Shawzin and further denied the “inference” that Bernstein’s alleged hostility had been at the behest, or with the encouragement, of Growthpoint.
Judge Dennis Davis further noted in court on Monday, that Growthpoint had denied all of the material allegations on which the fee claim was based, including the conclusion of a facilitation agreement between Growthpoint and the partnership, as well as the need for negotiations over the fee.
Judge Davis also said that court papers were replete with allegations, counter-allegations and “bad faith” between the parties.
“There is a litany of allegations that is the stuff of a poor spy novel...” he said.
However, he did not delve into these averments, saying that this was not what was before him to decide.
The matter came before him after Van Heerden went to court on an urgent basis to secure certain documents in terms of subpoenas.
He needed the documents to prepare for the hearing, which is expected to begin on February 17.
These documents include e-mail correspondence, internal communications and diary entries.
Judge Davis ordered the respondents – Marais, Growthpoint chief executive Norbert Sasse and an executive director Estienne de Klerk – to hand over the documents.
He also dismissed a counter-application to have the subpoenas set aside.