Several South Africans have been caught in an alleged loan scam operation that has a restaurant in Hungary listed on its website as its head office.
So far 10 complaints have been submitted to the Hawks and the National Credit Regulator (NCR).
But the company – Euro Aid Financial Services – insists it is running a legitimate business.
The man who brought it to the authorities’ attention is a Western Cape businessman who is fighting to recoup his losses.
Hawks spokesman McIntosh Polela said the complaint was made in December. Since then, the Hawks have received complaints from across the country.
The “victims” were all unable to get loans from banks or registered lenders and turned to Euro Aid Financial Services, which offers an interest rate of 7.5 percent a year and no capital repayment.
Applicants are told that they have to deposit one percent of the loan amount into the account of Euro Aid Financial Services before the loan can be transferred into their bank accounts.
They are also billed for administration fees, the amount of which varies depending on the loan requested.
Complainants claim that despite paying the deposit and the admin fee, they did not see a cent of the loan the company had agreed to give them. Instead, they said, they were met with excuses and stalling tactics.
Polela said that, on average, the complainants lost R20 000 each.
He confirmed that at least four agents from Euro Aid Financial Services were under investigation. There have been no arrests yet.
A Dr Ricardo Sabotti, based in Hungary, e-mailed the Cape Argus saying that he had instructed the company lawyer in Joburg to comment last week.
The lawyer’s brother, who answered his cellphone on Monday, said the reason his brother had not commented was that he had flown to Dubai last week “on urgent business”.
The Cape Argus has a list of 10 people who were promised loans but ended up losing money instead.
Polela said it appeared that the problem could be more widespread because “more people were coming forward”.
On its website, the company says it was founded in Budapest in Hungary 1985.
Euro Aid describes itself as an independent investment firm that has “pioneered private equity and venture capital in south-eastern Europe”.
No landline numbers are provided on the website. A physical address for its head office is listed, and an internet search on the address led to a restaurant called Pastramit.
It specialises in Hungarian cuisine.
The website says Euro Aid Financial Services is one of the European industry’s most experienced firms, having completed investments in more than 70 companies in 11 countries.
Even though it trades internationally, it uses only the rand symbol in its masthead on both the local domain-registered website, as well as the international dotcom site.
Both sites lead to the same home page. “Loans from R4 million investing in the future”, reads its slogan.
An associate of the firm’s accountant said he recently came to SA from Budapest. He deals with the payments.
The associate was adamant that the business was not a scam. He said all the loans would be deposited last Friday. The money would reflect in bank accounts by tomorrow, he said.
He said the whistle-blower’s deposit would be refunded but he would not get his loan.
“He gave us the wrong physical address.
“We won’t tolerate nonsense,” said the associate.
He admitted taking money from clients, but explained these were administration fees and to cover bank charges.
According to loan agreements in possession of the Cape Argus, clients are expected to pay 1 percent of their loan amount upfront. This serves as a deposit. Non-refundable admin fees are also charged.
The NCR had received 10 complaints against the company, said spokeswoman Lebogang Selibi.
The complainants were providing the regulator with information about their cases. Once all the information and evidence had been assessed, the NCR would decide whether a full investigation was warranted, said Selibi.
Selibi explained that the regulator first needed to assess the role of the parties involved in the provision of credit, and whether or not any of them should be registered.