Media companies facing more than R850m in legal claims
Combus Kellermann, the owner of the now defunct Belvedere Holdings, has applied to the high court to increase his defamation claim against several media companies from R30 million to more than R850m.
In an interview with Business Report, Kellermann claimed that media companies had from 2017 wrongfully reported that his company was a ponzi scam and this had allegedly caused his operations to go bust.
“The campaign against me started on March 23, 2015 with an article in BizNews, written by Alec Hogg, which reported that I had ‘been fingered as a mastermind behind a global ponzi scheme run out of Mauritius',” said Kellermann.
The BizNews report also cited a claim by Offshore Alert, a US company that specialises in uncovering fraud in offshore financial centres, that Belvedere Holdings was a “massive criminal enterprise” with assets of more than R200 billion.
“At the time, Belvedere was operating well and involved in fund administration, stock broking, life insurance and asset management, and, for instance, it operated more than 100 hedge funds,” said Kellermann.
A report on Media24 carried a similar narrative, he said. This narrative continued for several months with almost 40 articles, at last count, he added.
He said financial regulatory authorities had cleared him of all the allegations against him.
Kellermann has claimed R187.9m from Aurelius Media, the holding company of BizNews, representing an estimate of his past and future earnings, and the same amount from Alec Hogg, who reported the stories.
He was claiming R187.9m from African Business, holding company of CNBC television; R166.2m from Blackstar TV, the holding company of Business Day TV; and R166.2m from Media 24, holding company of Fin24, Netwerk24 and News24.
Kellerman had claimed R5m from the respondents previously.
He said the new amounts were independently calculated by Wim Loots, an actuarial consultant in conjunction with Hannes Swart, an industrial psychologist.
Since his company closed, he has been at home raising children. “My wife has had to go back to work. I have also had to spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and money defending myself in South Africa and Guernsey against the respective regulators.
I helped some of my colleagues in their investigations in Mauritius as well – I wasn't investigated, but I could assist them,” he said.
He said he was also investigated by the CFA Institute in the US and had been cleared of wrongdoing.
“It must be tough for these parties to admit that they fell for a fake news campaign,” he said in the interview.
Media24 chief executive Ishmet Davidson said the company had filed papers opposing Kellermann's application to amend his claim.
Hogg said he and Biznews would defend themselves against “Kellermann's threatened libel action and Dario Milo of Webber Wentzel is handling the matter for us.
“We picked up the story from Offshore Alert, which published articles on Kellermann's now defunct companies after the authorities in Mauritius, Guernsey and the Cayman Islands closed them down and withdrew all of Mr Kellermann's licences to operate,” said Hogg.