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R14.4m lost in property transaction handled by Onderberg attorney

Attorney, conveyancer and notary Zietta van Rensburg’s legal battle continues. A businessman alleged that she had embezzled him.

Almost five years after a businessman paid R14.4m for a property to build a new store, he is out of pocket and has no legitimate documents to prove ownership of the erf he bought.

Onderberg attorney Zietta Janse van Rensburg, whose appeal case against her suspension from practising law was heard in front of Judge Brian Mashile of the Mpumalanga High Court on April 11, stands central to the story.

Van Rensburg Attorneys. >Photo: Sesane Mabuza

Truth can be stranger than fiction, but in a bizarre tale, the businessman had been kept in the dark for years, when the puzzle pieces of how he was embezzled out of his money started falling into place.

ALSO READ: High court suspends Onderberg attorney: Zietta scrambles to continue practising

In light of the case’s sensitivity, the man has opted for anonymity and entrusted his Johannesburg attorneys to communicate with Lowvelder. At the end of 2017, the businessman mandated Van Rensburg Attorneys and Zietta specifically to seek a suitable property for him to construct a store.

At the end of March 2018, she informed him that she had located the perfect spot in Mbombela and claimed that the owner of the stand was Seramix (Pty) Ltd.

>Photo: Blake Linder

Property purchase payment plan

The purchase price was set at R13m and payment arrangements were made. A deposit of R8m had to be paid into the trust account of Van Rensburg Attorneys and R500 000 of this had to be paid to the seller of the property, Seramix’s Daniël van der Merwe.

Guarantees had to be issued for R7.5m, which was payable to Seramix upon registration and would reportedly be done by Van Rensburg Attorneys.

The businessman was informed that the seller of the property was satisfied to deal with Van Rensburg Attorneys.

ALSO READ: The Onderberg’s Zietta van Rensburg implicated in ‘serious misconduct’

According to the Johannesburg attorney, Zietta requested that apart from the selling price of R13m, the transfer costs, which amounted to R1 405 761, be paid into Van Rensburg Attorneys’ trust account.

The businessman was informed that the transaction was concluded and that the transfer had begun. He thought the end was in sight, and on September 23, 2019, he was informed that registration had taken place.

Finding the title deed

For approximately 11 months thereafter, numerous attempts to obtain the title deed from Zietta failed.

In September 2020, at his wits’ end, the businessman mandated a Mbombela-based legal firm to ascertain what the status of the transaction was.

A month later, the said attorney received a title deed from Zietta, which reflected that the property with its erf description was transferred.

ALSO READ: Virtual hearing for Onderberg attorney Zietta van Rensburg

But something was amiss, and the attorney investigated the validity of the title deed.

To his surprise, he found that the property was registered in the name of a close corporation, and there was no record that it had been transferred to the businessman.

It seemed a legal firm, Suliman & Maistry Inc., was involved in the transaction, and that the funds had been transferred to their trust account.

Shock after shock followed when it transpired that the owner of the title deed was an entitiy unknown to the businessman (all names are known to Lowvelder, but withheld).

The sales agreement was supposedly signed by Van der Merwe, the director of Seramix, on March 27, 2018, but this was impossible, as Van der Merwe had passed away on December 11, 2017, long before any agreement had been concluded.

Seramix was in the process of deregistration, a fact that was never revealed to the businessman.

Where did the money go?

Smelling a rat, further investigations were done, and in July 2023, subpoenas were issued by the Mbombela High Court against the banks involved in the transactions.

The statements were clear. The R500 000 that was allegedly paid into Van der Merwe’s account had not reflected.

The alleged account of Suliman & Maistry, into which the money for the sale was paid, did not belong to their firm, but to an unknown individual. It was also not a trust account, and it later transpired that the account number reflected on the proof of payments (POPs) did not even exist at the time at which some of the payments were effected.

Who are Suliman and Maistry?

The businessman contracted the Johannesburg attorneys to untangle the transaction.

In November 2023, these attorneys approached Imraan Suliman and Rochelle Maistry, the alleged proprietors of the firm, to clarify their involvement.

A representative of the firm told Lowvelder that the meeting uncovered that Suliman & Maistry was a Germiston-based firm (not Pretoria); they were no longer in practice and were not at the time of the alleged transactions; they had no dealings with Van Rensburg Attorneys or its representatives; they had never done conveyancing, but did mostly legal aid criminal work; the information reflected in documentation sent to the businessman was false and the email addresses, physical addresses, telephone numbers and all other information on the letterheads presented to the businessman were false.

They were adamant that they had never received any instructions from Van Rensburg Attorneys and were not even aware of the documents and communication, until they received a summons from the Johannesburg attorney firm.

Suliman and Maistry denied ever receiving funds from the trust account that was reflected in the POPs sent to the businessman. They denied transferring money to the so-called owner of the property, Seramix. In fact, they had no knowledge of the transaction.

The Johannesburg attorneys confirmed that a complaint was lodged with the Legal Practice Council (LPC) in February 2023 and that, according to the LPC, they were informed that Zietta had never replied to the questions sent to her about the case.

Zietta denies wrongdoing

Detailed questions on the saga were sent to Zietta, offering her the opportunity to respond to the allegations in the story.
In an email reply, she said: “Any financial queries must be directed to Johan van Rensburg, the sole proprietor for Van Rensburg Attorneys. I do not have access to his banking system nor his historical records.”

Further comment, supplied in a Word document, stated the following: “This transaction was during my employ with Van Rensburg Attorneys and not Van Rensburg Inc. I therefore have limited information to assist you with.

“It is correct that I helped identify a potential property. It would have been a linked transaction with Seramix as the transferee of the first transfer with a simultaneous transfer to the client. The Seller has the prerogative to nominate a conveyancer, which they did, being Suliman & Maistry.  Any queries regarding the transfer should be directed to them. It is correct that I previously paid out an amount of R500,000.00 to Mr Van der Merwe, but it was more than a year prior and on another transaction which was successful. Note that I was on maternity leave [between] July 2017 and July 2019. Queries regarding delay in transfer can be directed to Suliman & Maistry, but the sale agreement did proved (sic) for the purchase price to be paid over 18 months. The transfer would not have happened prior to the full payment.”

In reply to the question of whom she had worked with at Suliman & Maistry, Zietta stated: “The contact person was Rochelle Maistry. I spoke to Mr Suliman once. I was an employee working for a fixed salary. There was no financial incentive or benefit.”

Johan van Rensburg of Van Rensburg Attorneys told Lowvelder yesterday that the matter was in the hands of the police and the LPC, of which the last mentioned is currently heard in court. He could not comment further on the matter.

The Johannesburg attorneys confirmed that criminal charges had been laid against Zietta.

Two parties involved in the LPC’s suspension case against Zietta confirmed they were in the process of laying criminal charges. An affidavit to the effect was supplied to Lowvelder and further coverage will deal with it.

Also read: Breaking news: Malalane attorney loses appeal, can’t practise

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