Companies / 16 April 2019, 06:00am / Luyolo Mkentane
JOHANNESBURG – A senior official in the Office of the Master of the High Court in Pretoria is a close friend of the liquidators of the ill-fated Pamodzi Estate and the lawyer who represented them.
Christene Rossouw, a deputy master in the court, is a friend of Deon Botha, the joint-liquidator who wound up Pamodzi, and John Walker, the lawyer who represented Botha in the multimillion-rand transaction.
Business Report is in possession of photographs in which Rossouw, Botha and Walker appear to be partying together and embracing each other.
The relationship raises serious questions of conflict of interest, as liquidators fall within Rossouw’s domain. Liquidators are also answerable to her for their conduct.
Rossouw confirmed the veracity of the photographs, saying: “There is nothing untoward or inappropriate in my relationship with Mr Walker or, for that matter, Mr Botha. Mr Walker was my attorney on a personal matter. Mr Botha is an ex-colleague of mine who I have known for many years.
“Even Masters are entitled to a private life, and your intrusion into mine is unwarranted and not appreciated. It is an invasion of my privacy in respect whereof I reserve my rights.”
Rossouw is accused of a conflict of interest involving Walker and another joint-Pamodzi liquidator, Johan Francois Engelbrecht, who won a temporary reprieve last week stopping Police Minister Bheki Cele from executing a search-and-seizure warrant forming part of the police’s criminal investigation.
This week, a Sunday newspaper claimed that Rossouw was implicated in the commission, or suspected commission, of the offences, including fraud and corruption.
Rossouw removed joint-Pamodzi liquidators Enver Motala and Gavin Gainsford from the estate and the panel of liquidators in 2011. The Master’s office is responsible for appointing liquidators to estates, among other responsibilities.
The emergence of the photographs has shone a spotlight on Rossouw’s objectivity and professional conduct at the Master’s office.
Walker said his first instruction on behalf of the Pamodzi estate was in 2011, to conduct the insolvency inquiry.
He admitted to representing Rossouw in her divorce matter two years later, charging that every person was entitled to legal representation.
“That is their constitutional right. There was and remains no conflict of interest to that instruction,” said Walker.
In one of the photographs, Rossouw and Walker can be seen embracing, while in another a smiling Rossouw stands between Walker and Botha in a group embrace, at the resort town of Magaliesburg.
Walker confirmed the authenticity of the photographs, stressing, however, that the fact that the photographs were posted on social media “clearly refutes the existence of a so-called clandestine relationship”.
“The writer (Walker) acted as the attorney for Mrs Rossouw in her divorce action, and the photos were taken on the day of her divorce some time during 2013,” Walker said in his emailed response.
He said the fact that he acted as the attorney for Rossouw in her divorce matter was disclosed to the Office of the Master of the High Court at the time.
Walker said another image of him and Rossouw was taken several years ago during “a chance meeting” with Rossouw at some or other social function, but said he could not recall the details.
Commenting on the group photograph of him, Rossouw and Botha, Walker said: “The photo was taken on the occasion of the writer’s (Walker) birthday during 2014 at Magaliesburg at 4am prior to an air-balloon trip over the mountains.”
He revealed that Botha had known Rossouw for 20 years as they were employed at the Master’s office together.
Walker said he continued to interact socially with people including advocates, attorneys, judges, liquidators and arbitrators, adding: “Any insinuation that these social interactions are the result of an improper relationship with any person or that such interaction is proof of any criminal activity is a complete fabrication. The innuendo’s (sic) of improper conduct in the context are baseless and vexatious.”
On Saturday, acting chief master Theresia “Tessie” Bezuidenhout defended Rossouw, dismissing the allegations against her as false. “They are defamatory of Ms Rossouw and of this office and the way in which it functions,” Bezuidenhout said.
The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development was not immediately available for comment.