Cape Town - Unexpected technicalities delayed court proceedings on Wednesday in a case involving four men and three women allegedly involved in an online dating scam.
They appeared in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court before Magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg, and face 77 counts of fraud and one framed in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca).
Of the men, three are Nigerian nationals and one a Ghanaian. Two of the women are Nigerians and the third a South African.
One “gremlin” was a high court preservation order that froze the bank account of one of the accused rendering him unable to pay his legal fees.
Defence attorney John Riley told the court he would launch a high court application to unfreeze the bank account.
Another was the absence of two members of the legal team - one for reasons not explained, and the other for medical reasons.
A third was that one of the accused wished to conclude a plea-and-sentence agreement with prosecutor Juan Agulhas, and a fourth obstacle was that two of the lawyers wished to submit representations for the withdrawal of the charges to the head of the Specialised Commercial Crime Unit advocate Malini Govender.
The four men were arrested in May last year in a room at the Lagoon Beach Hotel in Milnerton, Cape Town.
The charge sheet lists 21 alleged victims, all of whom were duped in online dating chats.
The State alleges that the seven accused created false online dating profiles, and targeted vulnerable victims with whom they built up trust in a grooming process, and then requested money from them, “ostensibly for emergencies”.
The charge sheet tells how one of the victims, an Australian woman, started chatting online with a fictitious man by the name of Donald Caine, who claimed to be a semi-retired petroleum engineering consultant based on the Island of Fiji.
Caine was looking for a buyer for an expensive painting that he inherited from his late father and falsely informed the woman that the painting was about to be auctioned against his will.
The victim then received a call, ostensibly from a Cape Town customs official, who said the painting had not been properly declared and that Caine needed money urgently to pay customs duty in order to get the painting to Sydney.
Caine promised to repay the money but failed to do so.
The victim was then duped by a woman claiming to be Caine’s sister, who said her brother had died and had left his estate, worth US6 million, to the victim.
Another victim got involved in online dating with a woman named Zuska, who claimed to own a painting worth R35 million.
Zuska falsely informed the victim that she had been arrested by customs officials and needed money to secure her release.
Agulhas alleges that the scam generally involved non-existent valuable paintings that could not be converted into money due to restrictions.
The accused were warned to appear in court again on September 30.