Durban family: How we were duped into investing R3.5 million of our life savings in a R180 million Ponzi scheme

Ben and Vanessa Maistry invested R3.5m into what they believed was a golden retirement opportunity. Now, they're battling to reclaim their savings from a venture that's under investigation for being a Ponzi scheme. Picture: Lee Rondganger

Ben and Vanessa Maistry invested R3.5m into what they believed was a golden retirement opportunity. Now, they're battling to reclaim their savings from a venture that's under investigation for being a Ponzi scheme. Picture: Lee Rondganger

Published Oct 14, 2023


Poobendren “Ben” Maistry and his wife Vanessa Maistry worked hard their entire lives to one day build a nest egg so that they could retire comfortably and watch their grandchildren grow in the twilight of their years.

The couple, 61 and 52-years-old, respectively, who live in Merebank, south of Durban, successfully ran a telecommunications franchise before selling the business a few years ago in the belief that the money they had saved would see them through.

All this changed when the couple was introduced to a seemingly golden opportunity in 2021 - which turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.

In 2021, they were looking to invest some of their savings into a digital transformation business and were introduced to Brandon aka Muruvan Egambaram Naicker and his business partner, Jason Pillay who pitched them an investment opportunity that they were told would secure their retirement.

Naicker had an impressive business background. He was the owner of a registered Financial Services Provider (FSP) called Infinitii and a shareholder of a brokerage firm, Branson Capital which was owned by Pillay.

Naicker and Pillay met the Maistrys at Infinitii and Branson Capital’s offices in upmarket uMhlanga in early 2021 where they were presented the methodology of their investment strategy, promising offshore investments with lucrative returns.

The proposition seemed straightforward: invest funds and receive monthly dividends of 3%.

So slick was the duo’s pitch that the Maistrys told their son, 31-year-old Caolan Maistry to invest too.

Together, the family decided to invest R3.5m.

Ben Maistry, despite the advice of his financial advisor, withdrew R1.5m from his pension fund, his wife, the same amount and their son R500,000.

While in the process of getting their money released from where the funds were being held, the Maistrys say they did their due diligence. They asked about the Inifinitii and were given the FSP registration and were told their money they would invest would be secured.

Branson Capital even went as far as to offer a preferential rate for friends and family, making the deal seem even sweeter.

However, as discussions progressed, red flags began to emerge. The Maistrys expressed concerns about the structure of the investments. They were worried about penalties they'd incur when withdrawing their pension funds, having already exhausted their tax directives.

Ben said that Pillay, in a bid to assuage their fears, assured them that these funds would be reimbursed.

The Maistrys were further comforted by the revelation that Branson Capital and its affiliate, Infinitii, held Blue Star accreditation with Sanlam, a reputed financial services company in South Africa.

Durban bankers Brandon Naicker and Jason Pillay, once lauded for their financial expertise, are now under scrutiny for a R180m Ponzi scheme. Pictures: LinkedIn

By March 2022, the pressure to invest was mounting. Pillay and Naicker, as representatives of Branson Capital, frequently inquired about their pension funds, urging them to withdraw and invest before they "missed out" on limited-time deals.

Succumbing to the pressure, the Maistrys withdrew their funds in March 2022 and transferred them to Branson Capital in April.

However, the promised dividends were not forthcoming. Payments were sporadic, often delayed, and sometimes short of the agreed amount.

Excuses ranged from personal tragedies to inquiries from the Reserve Bank regarding potential money laundering. By October 2022, communication with Pillay became challenging, and Naicker’s assurances seemed empty.

The situation deteriorated further in 2023. Payments were delayed, and the Maistrys’ attempts to communicate with Branson Capital were often met with silence or more empty promises.

In desperation, they sought legal counsel, serving Branson Capital with letters of demand in May 2023. Yet, the company's response was lacklustre, and the Maistrys' funds remained tied up.

The Maistrys' ordeal culminated in a series of meetings in June 2023, where they discovered that Branson Capital had provided incorrect information about their insurance coverage. The insurer revealed that Infinitii FSP was no longer their client, contradicting Naicker’s initial claims, Ben said.

Now they have laid complaints with Hawks who are investigating and the Financial Sector Conduct Authority who are also investigating.

The Maistrys say they are embarrassed that they were duped by the Ponzi scheme.

Coalan Maistry said that looking back it is now easy to see the red flags, but at the time, Naicker and Pillay’s pitch and projections were not over-the-top and were believable.

“They were very well aware what number would be meaningful enough to give a customer the buy-in to the business or to invest with them.

“If you look at the structure they portrayed themselves to be under, it was a legitimate structure that actually exists within the financial industry, and the returns were in line with what some of the other bigger players were giving at the time,” he said.

“It's been a difficult time for us as a family,” Vanessa said.

“There have been sleepless nights, lots of crying, lots of fighting, lots of tension and we don't know how to make you know, how are you going to run the next month or pay your bills for the next month and put food on the table for your family,” she said.

“Being the heads of our family and as parents you worry about how you're going to feed your children or keep a roof over their heads. It's very difficult. And we often fight among ourselves because discussion eventually turns into an argument and it becomes difficult because I mean, we still have kids. My youngest is still in university and it's difficult to even get him through university. Now you sit and take from your kids, which is something no parent wants to do,” she said.

Ben said that he hoped that the end result of the investigation would see the family at least get some of their money back.

“We know we are not going to get it all back, but we are hoping for something, so that at least we can start another business to support our family,” he said.

Brandon Naicker and Jason Pillay’s response

IOL reached out to both Naicker and Pillay.

Naicker said in a WhatsApp message that he is a shareholder of Branson Capital and he is currently dealing with this issue with his attorney and he is taking “action against the directors of the company”.

A letter sent to IOL by his attorney said Naicker had long resigned as a director of Branson Capital. It did not specify exactly when he resigned as a director or if he was a director between 2022 and June 2023 when the scheme began unravelling.

“We however advise that the allegations that your letter records that our client and his companies, Infinitii and Branson Capital, ran a Ponzi scheme, is unfounded. As your letter suggests the contrary, we invite you to substantiate the allegations that your mail records to accord our client ‘a fair right to respond’.”

The law firm was sent a detailed list containing 10 questions which outlined allegations made against Naicker.

Jason Pillay initially wanted to “give his side of the story” but after consideration sent IOL a WhatsApp response.

In it, he said: “Unfortunately due to there being an active investigation of the matter I believe that right now would not be the right time for me to offer any statement or comment. I would be open to an interview or to provide comment after the investigation as the integrity of the same is currently of the highest priority to me.”