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Cape Town -
An ugly battle over the sale of a Caledon farm, featuring bizarre allegations of deceit, multimillion-rand fraud and dog-poisoning, has been resolved.
The Western Cape High Court has ordered that the farm be handed back to its original owner.
However, a criminal case against the buyer for the alleged poisoning of five dogs on the farm is still pending in the Somerset West Magistrate’s Court.
In the High Court case, KwaZulu-Natal businessman Reg Connolly alleged that Loxton sheep farmer and businessman Johannes van Wyk offered – but failed – to pay him R20 million for the farm Rooiheuwel near Caledon, the bulk of which was to have been paid in pounds sterling from a family trust in the UK.
Van Wyk countered, however, that he had no knowledge of such an arrangement, and anyway had no funds overseas.
Last year, the court dismissed Connolly’s attempt to recover his farm, but he appealed to a full Bench of the High Court – a move which proved successful a week ago when the court ordered Van Wyk to vacate the premises.
The evidence in court was that Connolly bought the farm in 1995 so that he and his partner, Leonora Longbottom, could retire there.
The farm was mainly used for the planting of grain and milk production, and Connolly, who lived in KwaZulu-Natal, visited Caledon four times a year.
He later experienced financial difficulties. His business, Rubbertech, had an overdraft of R2.5m and he had two loans of R5m each.
Eventually, in 2010, when he owed the bank about R9.5m and was being pressured to pay, he was forced to consider selling the farm.
An estate agent offered him R17m, but he rejected it because he believed he could get a better price. In early November that year, he was again offered R17m to sell, this time by Van Wyk, whom he had met several years previously. He again rejected the offer.
The following month Van Wyk upped his offer, promising to make three payments, with the bulk being paid in pounds sterling from his family trust in the UK. The condition was, however, that the pounds sterling arrangement had to stay private.
According to the evidence, a draft agreement was prepared in January 2011. Although it contained no reference to the pounds, it said the purchase price of R6.5m would be payable “as close as possible to 1 February 2014”.
The following month, when Van Wyk met Connolly in Durban, Van Wyk wrote out the pound sterling agreement and signed it. No witnesses were present because the agreement was supposed to be secret.
A separate agreement for the sale of the movable assets for R1.3m recorded that the amount was payable in 10 six-monthly instalments.
Connolly put both agreements in his office drawer, but said that when he returned after dropping Van Wyk at the airport, the pounds sterling agreement was missing. Even though Van Wyk assured him that the money would still be paid, Connolly then found he could not get hold of Van Wyk, and no money was deposited into his bank account.
Connolly eventually approached an attorney to assist him and, in March 2011, the attorney sent Van Wyk’s attorneys a letter cancelling the agreements and requesting that they vacate the farm.
But they did not do so, prompting Connolly to go to court.
In a judgment handed down a week ago, Judge André Blignault said at least five major factors, which came out of the evidence before the court, supported Connolly’s version of events.
Among the five were that Connolly explicitly mentioned to his bank manager that he had sold the farm and that a substantial portion of the funds would be paid in pounds sterling
He added: “If Van Wyk were to be believed, these statements would amount to massive misrepresentations to Connolly’s own bank manager, on whom he was dependent for financial survival. Why would Connolly have done this?”
Another factor in Connolly’s favour was the transcript of telephonic inquiries Connolly’s partner made to two banks to ask about foreign currency procedures.
He found that the cumulative effect of the factors outweighed those favouring Van Wyk “by a wide margin”. He upheld the appeal, ordering Van Wyk to leave the farm and return the equipment and livestock.
Judges André le Grange and Robert Henney agreed.
The criminal case, in which Van Wyk is accused of poisoning the dogs, as well as charges of intimidation and fraud, has been postponed to June.