File photo

Cape Town - For nearly two years his former sister-in-law stored his money – R850 000 in cash – in a box in the garage of her Fish Hoek home, after he told her he didn’t trust the South African banking system, and assured her there was nothing illegal about the money.

Then, in June last year, Zimbabwean businessman Hendrik O’Neill asked his close friend Alfred Chabalala to take the money to Joburg for him.

With the cash in a suitcase, Chabalala boarded an SA Roadlink bus and made it as far as Beaufort West, where the police stopped the bus and seized the cash.

Chabalala has been charged with possession of stolen property and contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, and has yet to be tried.

But O’Neill is adamant the cash was lawfully obtained, and has instituted a legal process in the Western Cape High Court against the Minister of Safety and Security, police and the National Director of Public Prosecutions, to have it returned to him.

In a statement after Chabalala’s arrest, O’Neill said the cash was “realised from cattle sales which I conducted after the expropriation of my ranches during the Zimbabwe Government Land Reform Programme between 2002 and 2010”.

“I could not use the international banking system for my transactions as most suppliers in South Africa at that time were not accepting bank drafts originating from Zimbabwe, due to the instability of the financial services sector, as well as the volatile exchange rates prevailing then,” he said.

O’Neill added that he brought the money to South Africa over a period of time.

“I did not declare the money to Sars upon entry and have never attempted to bank the money there. It was always my intention that whatever I purchased with the money would be legally exported out of South Africa again, and that I was complying with all statutory regulations of the Republic of South Africa.”

In an affidavit forming part of his High Court application, he said he could not provide details of the people from whom he had received the money because he did not keep a record of who bought his cattle.

His former sister-in-law, Kerrie-Jane O’Neill, confirmed in a separate affidavit that she agreed to store the money for him. She said Chabalala collected the money from her in June last year.

Chabalala is due to appear in court again next month.

“I still cannot understand what I was arrested and charged for because, to the best of my knowledge and belief, I was not in possession of stolen property and nor am I (or have ever been) involved in any activity which can be described as ‘organised crime’,” he said.

In responding papers, investigating officer Trevor Engel said: “Nothing prevented the applicant from depositing the money in a bank account in South Africa. South Africa has one of the most sophisticated and safe banking systems in the world. For the applicant to have advised Kerrie-Jane O’Neill, who suggested to him that the money should be banked and the applicant’s reply thereto that he did not trust the South African bank system, is laughable.”

He said the police were investigating whether the money was linked to a crime.

Engel added that an armed robbery had been committed in Bonnievale the day before Chabalala was arrested, and that an amount of between R800 000 and R1 million in cash was stolen.

A strand of hair found in between the cash seized from Chabalala was sent for DNA testing to see whether it was linked to any of the victims of the Bonnievale robbery.

Engel added that he conducted a Google search for O’Neill and found two articles suggesting that someone with the same name as O’Neill was linked to the Marange diamond trade. Interpol had been asked to investigate further.

He submitted that it would not be in the interests of the administration of justice that the money be returned to O’Neill, particularly because he was a Zimbabwean citizen and could dispose of it with little effort.

The minister has lodged an application for O’Neill to provide R200 000 security for legal costs, and on Friday Acting Judge Stephen Koen postponed this application to May 21.

O’Neill’s main application for the return of the money is set down for June 4.

Weekend Argus