Durban - They met through mutual friends and for 10 years lived together as man and wife, also working together.
But now Saka van der Merwe, 49, is in court, charged with fraud and theft involving almost R12 million. And the man she allegedly stole from, her “life partner” 69-year-old Hillcrest businessman Peter Odgers, is looking for a job.
This week Van der Merwe, who is living in Joburg, appeared in Durban’s specialised commercial crimes court and indicated that she wanted to plead guilty.
The twice-divorced, Czechoslovakian-born Van der Merwe stood in the dock as her attorney Ricky Ramouthar said the only dispute was the number of charges she would plead guilty to.
Prosecutor Wendy O’Brien said the State wanted a plea on the charge sheet before court, which details more than 1 400 charges.
“The defence must make its submissions and the State will take it up with the complainant (Odgers) and the forensic auditor (Ekhard Volker).”
The charge sheet is based on a forensic audit done by Volker who assisted property developer Odgers when he realised in 2010 that all his money was gone.
It alleges that from January 2006 to August 2010 Van der Merwe siphoned R11.7 million from his various business accounts and credit cards, including those of his company, Ivory Palm Property 8 CC, and a trust set up for his adult daughters, the Wenlin Trust.
“She was his life partner and his book-keeper, which placed her in a position of trust and, based on this dual role, resulted in the accused having access to his bank accounts,” the charge sheet states.
During August 2010, when Odgers was unable to use his credit card, he found thousands of unauthorised online transfers.
Most were made to Van der Merwe’s own bank accounts, others to those of her relatives and more than R1 million was spent on online gambling, the charge sheet states.
The audit revealed 1 763 suspicious transactions and checks with local casinos showed Van der Merwe had been a frequent visitor.
Odgers attended Van der Merwe’s first court appearance last month, saying it was the first time he had seen her since 5pm on August 30, 2010, when, he alleges, she told him she was going for a drive and never returned.
Odgers told The Mercury his financial woes began when “the cash started to dry up” in 2007 but he believed this was because of the world economic slump.
By 2010 he had had to sell off his entire “pension” – his portfolio of about 23 properties, including his own home.
“I own nothing now. My reputation is in tatters and my career is ruined. I am a white male. I will be 70 on my next birthday and I am looking for a job,” he said. - The Mercury