the rotrax that Rico Bernert will be manufacturing internationally. Photo: Bernert
the rotrax that Rico Bernert will be manufacturing internationally. Photo: Bernert

Swiss loan set to put Rotrax into production

By Time of article published Sep 26, 2011

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Wiseman Khuzwayo

Rico Bernert, the businessman who sued Absa for R187 million for breach of contract, has now secured a soft loan of R560m from Switzerland to build his Rotrax El Macho vehicle.

Bernert said on Friday that the loan was from a reputable wealth management fund that he did not want disclosed, and was for E50m (R560m). It was only subject to a condition that Bernert’s company, Rotrax Cars International, is registered in Switzerland.

He said he was registering the company in Switzerland and was working with a Swiss lawyer based in South Africa.

Bernert made headlines when he sued Absa for R187m for breach of contract when the bank recalled a letter of guarantee it had purportedly granted to Rotrax to secure funding from a financier in Abu Dhabi. Absa said the letter, if in the wrong hands, could be used to commit fraud.

Bernert wanted to use the funding to build a plant to manufacture the Rotrax El Macho vehicles in South Africa.

In 2008, Bernert won his case in the North Gauteng High Court for an undetermined amount of damages, but lost it on appeal and at the Constitutional Court.

The lead-up to the first judgment in Pretoria was characterised by unorthodox tactics, with Absa attaching Bernert’s claim of R178m for a paltry unpaid debt of R12 000, and Bernert attaching Absa’s debtors book worth billions.

He is now suing Absa afresh for the same amount, on grounds that the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Constitutional Court found Absa’s conduct to be in breach of the Banks Act. The summons has been issued but not served.

The Swiss wealth management fund says the Rotrax patent will be registered to the Swiss company. It was valued at R53.3m by global intellectual property valuers DM Kisch Consulting a few years ago.

Bernert said he was negotiating to sign deals for joint ventures in South Africa, Egypt, Europe and Australia.

In South Africa, he said he was looking for credible black empowerment partners.

He said the South African plant would create about 1 000 direct and indirect jobs and would supply the Southern African Development Community. “This is a labour-intensive project. Our vehicles will be long line, hand made,” said Bernert.

With a body made of fibreglass, the El Macho is a light and affordable all-terrain vehicle.

Basic models have a 1 600cc petrol or diesel engine. High performance models have a V6 or V8 engine for use in sport, recreation, farming, forestry, mining, policing, emergency response, border, fast military patrol, and as attack vehicles.

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