Bipolar city mogul declared unfit to manage own affairs

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ZELDA VENTER

High Court Reporter

MULTIMILLIONAIRE elderly businessman Richard Sterne, owner of Villa Sterne, a landmark top-class hotel in Waterkloof, has been declared unfit by the Pretoria High Court to manage his own financial affairs. He suffers from bipolar disorder and apparently acts irrationally at times.

Judge Hennie de Vos yesterday appointed an auditors’ firm as a curator to manage his financial affairs.

Another curator was appointed earlier to investigate whether the 66-year-old man could manage his own affairs or not.

That curator recommended to the court that Sterne indeed was not able to handle his own affairs.

Sterne, who has an estate worth more than R30 million, said in court papers he was now down and out. His family – his former wife Joy Sterne and children – did not have his best interests at heart by asking the court to declare him unfit to manage his affairs, he said.

Sterne said he was bipolar, but took medication and could function normally.

He complained that his family took away his wallet, bank card and car keys and that they “orchestrated that he be arrested and taken to Weskoppies”, where he was discharged after being examined.

“On my discharge, I was denied access to Villa Sterne. I now stay with friends… I virtually live the life of a hobo as I have no access to money and have no abode, although I am a wealthy man.”

But his family said in a statement he was disruptive when he visited the villa. In their opinion, he was not capable of driving his car alone, nor manage his affairs.

The Sternes had been embroiled in many bitter legal battles over the past decade. The couple’s divorce in April 2008 was an acrimonious one, marked by many accusations and counter-accusations.

In 2002, Joy Sterne had her husband evicted from Villa Sterne. At the time she said he had threatened her and her bodyguard and harassed her. She wanted him arrested as he had violated an earlier court order not to harass her, she said.

At the time he undertook not to bother her, but obtained an order allowing him “visitation rights” to his luxury vehicles parked at the villa, which included a Ferrari.

In 2008, a month after their divorce, Joy Sterne again went to court, to have a curator appointed to examine whether her former husband was of sound mind.

That application was triggered by claims that he went on irrational shopping sprees. Court papers said he had spent about R1.5m in 20 days. Sterne apparently bought, among others, exotic birds worth more than R30 000, champagne for R120 000, and a minibus for R355 000.

His family said this proved his “erratic behaviour.”

Sterne explained at the time that he had later exchanged the minibus for two 14-year-old American-made vehicles, plus jewellery valued at R184 150. The judge at the time said he found this explanation “extraordinary and bizarre”.

The court also could not comprehend why Sterne would spend more than R30 000 on exotic birds and R47 000 on a bicycle for “exercise purposes”.

Psychiatrists supported yesterday’s application that a curator bonis be appointed to handle Sterne’s finances.

It was stated that his medication worked well, but when he “went into a manic phase”, he did not bother to take his medication.

This led to his acting irresponsibly which could hold grave financial consequences for him, it was stated.


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