IOL EXCLUSIVE: How two high-flying Durban bankers ran a R180 million Ponzi scheme targeting pensioners

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

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

Published Oct 13, 2023


On his LinkedIn profile, Brandon Naicker claims to be a “serial entrepreneur” who has launched several successful businesses in the financial sector, among them, a registered Financial Services Provider insurance brokerage firm called Infinitii.

Naicker, whose legal first names are Muruvan Egambaram says that starting Infinitii, in turn led him to acquire a Sanlam franchise brokerage (Nalai BlueStar), which was one of only 190 in the country.

He was also a shareholder in another brokerage firm called Branson Capital which he ran with Jason Pillay, who on his LinkedIn Profile called himself the owner of Branson Capital.

Their companies, Infinitii and Branson Capital, boasted slick websites and were strategically located in the wealthy uMhlanga district, further cementing their image of prosperity and legitimacy.

Both men, with backgrounds in banking and finance, portrayed themselves as high-flying business mavericks. Their LinkedIn Profiles have them either sitting in a fancy sports car or standing alongside one.

But now the two, once hailed for their financial acumen, are at the centre of a massive Ponzi scheme scandal estimated at R180 million that primarily targeted pensioners and retirees.

These included retired teachers, police officers and businesspeople, robbing them of their hard-earned life savings.

Police are investigating at least 160 cases where individual investors poured their entire life savings and pensions in the scheme run by Naicker and Pillay who promised them lucrative returns.

Most of the victims are retired civil servants.

Investors were promised up to 3% dividends per month on their initial investment with Branson Capital which they were assured was underwritten by Infinitii which had a legitimate FSP registration.

For example, Branson Capital promised that if an investor invested R900,000 with them, they would receive R27,000 a month in returns.

Brandon Naicker portrays himself as high-flying business maverick on LinkedIn

The Financial Services Sector Authority has confirmed that it has launched an investigation into Infinitii and Branson Capital.

IOL has interviewed victims, many of them educated, some of them former successful business people in their own right who say they were lured into the scheme by the pair’s polished pitch and the legitimacy of their office space and previous business experience.

Central to this image was Naicker's LinkedIn profile, where he portrayed himself as a "Legacy Builder" and a serial entrepreneur.

He detailed his journey from gaining experience at top banks like Absa, BoE/Nedbank, and Capitec Bank to launching successful businesses in the financial sector.

His profile painted a picture of a self-made success story, emphasising his 23 years of financial expertise and his ventures into the investment market.

LinkedIn, a platform known for professional networking and business opportunities, was an ideal choice for Naicker.

It allowed him to reach a wider audience, establish credibility, and attract potential investors.

Jason Pillay says he is the owner of Branson Capital on his LinkedIn page

But what is a Ponzi scheme, and how did these bankers manage to deceive so many?

A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investing scam promising high rates of return with little risk to investors.

The scheme leads investors to believe profits are coming from legitimate business activities when, in fact, they are coming from payments made by newer investors.

The scheme is destined to collapse because the earnings, if any, are less than the payments to investors.

One of the investors of the scheme is Marina Rajan, 61, a retired businesswoman who invested R300,000 in March 2023.

She said that she had got dividends of 3% a month (R6,000) for three months before payments stopped.

When the money stopped coming, she camped out at Naicker and Pillay’s offices and held several meetings with them.

She said that she was given several excuses, including that the money had been invested offshore in Mauritius and that Naicker’s lawyers were dealing with the matter.

“When I asked about their insurances and who they were dealing with offshore, I got no answers. It was one excuse after another excuse,” she said.

Rajan has since begun compiling a list of all the victims of the scheme and her list has swelled to over 40 in Durban, alone. There are said to be hundreds more spread across the country.

“There are many more people that are not on that list, like retired police generals, captains and colonels. I think they are too embarrassed to give me their details, but they are on our (WhatsApp) group.

“What was shocking was that when I began compiling the list and tracking all the accounts where investors were putting their money into, there were five different accounts and some of the accounts were Brandon’s personal accounts,” she said.

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

Poobendren Maistry, 61, a Merebank pensioner is another victim, who has detailed his harrowing experience with the duo.

He was enticed by the promise of high returns on his investment of R1.5 million and the assurance that his capital investments would remain unencumbered.

The duo's companies even provided guarantees and sureties, further luring Maistry into their web of deceit.

But as with all Ponzi schemes, the returns eventually stopped. Payments became sporadic, and the excuses began to pile up.

From personal tragedies to alleged inquiries from the Reserve Bank, the reasons for the delays were many.

But the truth was simple: the money from new investors was no longer sufficient to cover the promised returns to earlier investors.

As the scheme began to unravel, the desperation became evident.

Maistry, who invested his entire pension into the scheme run by Naicker and Pillay - against the advice of his financial advisor who pleaded with him not to withdraw his pension fund - is now at his wits end.

He had made his investment with Branson Capital in April 2022 and after seven months of erratic payments, the payments eventually dried up completely.

Maistry’s story paints a picture of constant reassurances, unmet promises, and a series of meetings that led nowhere.

The duo's tactic was to delay, deflect, and deny until the very end.

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 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”.

As the police investigation into this R180 million Ponzi scheme continues, the victims, many of whom have lost their entire life savings, are left grappling with the aftermath of this massive deception.

In a statement to IOL, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) confirmed that they have launched an investigation into Branson Capital and Infinitii.

Despite being asked, they did not go into the extent of the alleged Ponzi scheme.

The FSCA said that depending on the outcome of their investigation, Branson Capital and Infinitii face debarment, administrative penalties and criminal prosecution.

Asked how the FSCA monitors and regulates companies like Branson Capital to ensure they are operating within the legal and ethical boundaries set for financial institutions in South Africa, the FSCA said: “The FSCA does not regulate and monitor companies who are not financial institutions or financial services providers. The FSCA has a licensing framework in terms whereof it supervises licensed entities and individuals that conduct financial services business. With reference to such licensed entities, the FSCA has a regulatory framework in terms whereof such entities are supervised to ensure that customers are treated fairly.”

KwaZulu-Natal police spokesperson, Lieutenant Colonel Nqobile Gwala confirmed that a case of fraud is being investigated.

“People must exercise caution when transacting or interacting with strangers on the internet. They must not deposit any money or disclose their banking details to any without verifying the authenticity of the person or the entity.

“If it is too good to be true, it is possibly too good to be true. People are advised to be cautious when transacting on the online platforms,” she said.