Councillor in row over willComment on this story
For the record added 24 April 2013 (see below for corrections):
Johannesburg - Calls have been made for Ekurhuleni councillor Neil Diamond to resign after allegations were made in court that he forged a signature on a will and stole more than R5 million from a friend’s estate.
Diamond is a businessman and chairman of the Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality’s finance portfolio committee.
The allegations were made by Melissa Naidu, a forensic consultant at Paul O’Sullivan & Associates. She was hired to investigate the suspected theft from the estate of the late Jannie Marthinus van der Walt.
Diamond in turn applied for an urgent interdict to restrain security expert Paul O’Sullivan and Annelien van der Walt (Jannie’s wife) from threatening, harassing, intimidating or abusing him.
In the application, he also asked that O’Sullivan stop trying to extort money from him and stop stalking him. Diamond denies O’Sullivan’s claims.
Naidu, in her affidavit before the Johannesburg High Court, claimed that Diamond had created a will for Van der Walt, forging his signature to make himself the executor of the estate, after which he transferred more than R5m to himself.
Naidu said DVM Audit Tax Accounting Inc was hired by Van der Walt’s estate to help with the investigation.
“During our meetings with DVM, it became apparent that funds were misappropriated from the estate’s account,” said Naidu.
“Neil Diamond, who was an ex-partner and colleague of JM van der Walt, had on several occasions misappropriated funds from the estate’s banking account,” Naidu claimed.
The estate appointed Cecil Greenfield, who specialises in analysing signatures, to determine whether the signature on Van der Walt’s will was authentic. His report found that the signature on the will was a forgery.
The court papers also include the affidavit of Van der Walt’s brother-in-law, Andre Johann de Wit, who said Diamond had told him of his intention to forge a will.
De Wit said that two days after Van der Walt’s death, Diamond approached him and told him that Van der Walt’s sister would be the executor of the estate and that Van der Walt’s wife Annelien would get nothing.
De Wit claims that Diamond told him he would make a will, naming himself as the executor, and that Annelien would get what she was entitled to.
De Wit said Diamond showed him an unsigned will a few days later.
The court papers allege that Diamond stole R5.57m in total from the estate.
“He carefully conceived and hatched a plan whereby he would forge a will, granting him sole executorship, and then use the position created to plunder the estate over a period of less than a week of the amount of R5.57m,” said Naidu.
In his responding affidavit, Diamond writes that he and Van der Walt were close friends and Van der Walt had appointed him as the executor of his estate. He resigned a few months later after Van der Walt’s wife had asked him to.
Diamond said he was a creditor of the estate for sums of R851 000 and R125 000, which was lent to Van der Walt during his lifetime.
He had also advanced more than R1m to cover urgent expenses of the estate.
Diamond alleged O’Sullivan had approached him outside of his business and spoke to him in a threatening tone, saying he was investigating him.
He had allegedly told Diamond that he would keep the investigation out of the press and make the whole thing go away if money exchanged hands.
O’Sullivan alleged he had rock-solid evidence that Diamond had stolen money from the estate.
“As a veiled threat, he said he has calmed his client down, but that he does not know how long he can keep her calm. I felt threatened and intimidated by these comments,” said Diamond.
For the record:
The Star apologises to businessman and Ekurhuleni ANC councillor Neil Diamond for inaccurately and unfairly stating that "calls" were made for him to "resign" (from the council), as this exaggerated reporting probably caused him unnecessary harm.
The call was merely for him to temporarily step aside as the chairman of the municipality's finance portfolio committee until an investigation has been completed.
Diamond lodged a complaint with the Press Ombudsman about our story on December 28, 2012, headlined "Councillor accused of forging signature on will to gain R5m".
The story, written by Angelique Serrao, said calls had been made for him to resign following allegations in court that he had forged a signature on a will and stole more than R5 million from the estate of a friend (Mr Jannie van der Walt). This allegation was reportedly made by Mrs Melissa Naidu, a forensic consultant at Paul O'Sullivan & Associates. The article said she had been hired to investigate the suspected theft.
Serrao also wrote that Diamond had applied for an urgent interdict to restrain O'Sullivan and Ms Annelien van der Walt (Jannie's wife) from threatening, harassing, intimidating or abusing him (which is what the court case was about).
Press Ombudsman Johan Retief directed us to apologise; he also cautioned us for not doing enough to get comment from Diamond or his legal representative before publication, and for not stating in the story that we were unable to get hold of him.
He also found that the reference in the story to Diamond's "responding" affidavit was wrong, as it should have read "founding" affidavit. However, he accepted that this was an honest mistake – as was the fact that we partly got the chronology of events wrong (he first applied for the interdict before Naidu's affidavit was released, while we suggested that it was the other way around).
The same went for the reference that Naidu's affidavit was presented to the Johannesburg High Court (which it was not). He asked us to retract these matters and to put forward the correct facts, which we have now done.
Retief dismissed the parts of the complaint that:
- Diamond said he had not received an application and/or demand in respect of any allegation regarding Van der Walt's estate;
- allegations of forgery and theft were not made against him in court;
- the matter between him and O'Sullivan was not an "ongoing saga";
- the story created a false impression that Diamond did provide comment to the allegations contained in the story; and
- the reporter was malicious and vexatious.
At a meeting between the Ombudsman and the parties, Diamond's legal representative withdrew this last part of the complaint.
"I take this as an implicit acknowledgement that the few mistakes that crept into the story were not intended to harm Diamond in any way – which I have accepted all the way," Retief commented.
See the full finding on www.presscouncil.org.za