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Six weeks of no access to bank accounts: Malalane attorney’s clients receive no help from bank

A Lydenburg couple’s bank account was frozen after an amount of R125 000 was deposited into it from an Absa account. The Findlays thought the matter would be easily settled, but it just was the beginnings of a nightmare.

Six weeks ago, on May 1, William and Bronwyn Findlay could not draw money from their Capitec accounts at an ATM. It was a public holiday and the next morning (May 2), the couple went to their local branch where they were informed that their accounts had been frozen due to an amount of R125 000 they had received from an Absa account.

It was from Malalane attorney Zietta Janse van Rensburg, who was suspended from practising as an attorney on February 22 – after various complaints were lodged at the LPC – and had her leave to appeal the suspension denied in April.

ALSO READ: Malalane attorney claims she wasn’t ‘on record’ for client in court

The Findlays had indeed received an amount of R365 000 paid to them in instalments as an advance for a property deal in which Janse van Rensburg acted as their attorney.

William was advised to provide the bank with an affidavit stating that the advance was for a property transaction involving the sale of 101,7624 hectares of land to the Department of Human Settlements. On May 2, William submitted the requested affidavit to the bank.

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The Findlays thought the matter would be easily settled, but it was the start of a nightmare. The pair was sent from pillar to post, contacting the bank’s client service department, reaching out to Capitec’s legal department, and eventually laying a complaint with the Bank Ombudsman. When this did not help, William asked an attorney to write a letter to Capitec, demanding the immediate restoration of access to their bank accounts and a copy of the court order in terms of which their accounts were frozen. Capitec roped in legal giants Werksmans Attorneys to respond to correspondence.

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They stated: “Our client denies that the hold on the applicable accounts is unlawful. Our client is in possession of a sworn affidavit by Mr Findlay, dated 2 May 2024, in which he confirms that he received a payment of R365,000.00 from the suspended attorney (Mrs Zietta van Rensburg) under the pretence of an advance payment, in relation to fraudulent documents and contracts. This evidence clearly contradicts your instructions that the payment was perfectly lawful, as stated in your email under reply.” Werksmans’ JG Cloete further stated: “Mr Findlay was not entitled to receive the abovementioned payment, and has no valid claim to the balance of funds in the account, which amounts to less than the amount illegally received. Mr Findlay was furthermore not able to lawfully pay portions of the amount received to Mrs Findlay.

“We are engaging with the Legal Practice Council, which has taken control of the trust account of Mrs Janse van Rensburg, to establish what their position is.” Cloete said if William opted to launch court proceedings, he would have to cite the Legal Practice Council (LPC) in the papers, and made it clear that they would oppose any case.

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Lowvelder sent enquiries to Capitec, Werksmans and the LPC on Friday to determine why the bank was so reluctant to offer the Findlays the right to information on the hold on their accounts and why they were not able to provide the court order which justified their action.

“Currently, our right to fight what has happened to is being frustrated by the bank and we are back to square one after we received an email from Capitec today.”

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

On Tuesday, June 11, Capitec’s Nokulunga Nqwiliso, complaint management officer, sent an email:

“You would like to understand why the bank placed the stop on your account and requested that the stop status be removed from your account. The matter was escalated to the relevant department for assistance and we received feedback on 11 June 2024 the stop status will remain as the matter is being handled by our legal team. “We empathise with the terrible experience you had, and we would like to take this opportunity to extend our sincerest apologies for any inconvenience caused. You may refer the case to the Financial Ombud Scheme South Africa.” William responded: “You are still not providing me with any detail about who ordered the stop or with any legal documents that prove the stop. Can you please send me the above info because it is my legal right to know who ordered it and on what conditions! “And we need to know with who we are dealing. It’s unacceptable that you stopped my account without any legal paperwork to prove your decision or without a court order. Please provide us with legal paperwork stating your claims that you received a request to stop and hold the funds.” An aggrieved William told Lowvelder on Wednesday June 12 that they are at breaking point.

How did it all start?

William and his sister owned the land on the outskirts of Mbombela and first asked Janse van Rensburg to assist them with the subdivision thereof. They paid her R80 000 to start the process on behalf of the Findlay Group. Soon after, Janse van Rensburg said she had a possible buyer for the property. They were supplied with a diagram that showed that the property subdivision had taken place. The Findlays were presented with a letter from the Department of Human Settlements, signed by a Ms R Kgantsi (director), in September 2023. In the letter, the department expressed their interest in buying the land to develop medium- to low-income housing.

There were a few conditions that had to be met, including that the subdivision be finalised, a water rights issue be resolved, and that the transaction be in line with the valuation of the property. On October 12 and 17 respectively, a deed of sale was entered into by the Findlay Group and the National Department of Human Settlements and was signed by all the relevant parties. The property was sold for a whopping R35.24m.

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“We were not all in one room when we signed the deal as the department was represented by someone in Gauteng. We signed it in Malalane and Zietta had the rest done in Gauteng. We received the signed copy of the deed,” William explains. The Findlays were excited to enter a new chapter in their lives. They resigned from their positions in Komatipoort and set out to find a farm they could buy in Lydenburg.

“We were told the land deal would be done and dusted by December, so we moved and stayed in a lodge until we could occupy the farm we had found.” They got the ball rolling with the property they wanted to buy and the seller asked for a bank guarantee or deposit before the Findlays could take occupation.

On November 3, 2023, Janse van Rensburg sent William a video she took while her bank account was open, and she talked him through the transactions that indicated an amount of R1.762m had been paid into her account the previous day.

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“I think she tried to show me that 50% of the deal, R17.6m, was paid, but indeed the payments and balances didn’t add up,” William said. At the time, he did not pick up that there was one zero missing in the payment. (Lowvelder has the video in question.)

Seller wants his money

The seller of the Lydenburg farm was getting impatient about the Findlays’ payment delay, but also understood that the sale of their land was in the process of being finalised. Before allowing occupation, a deposit had to be paid, however. Janse van Rensburg paid a R6.6m deposit into the seller’s legal firm’s account, but it never reflected. The notice of payment date at the top of the proof of payment (POP) was dated January 2, 2024, but the payment date on the transaction information differed and reflected February 2, 2024. The legal firm in question confirmed to Lowvelder that the payment never reflected in their account and upon receiving the POP, the firm had already cancelled the deal due to non-payment. Janse van Rensburg supplied copies to Lowvelder of emails between her and her bank dated January 2024, in which problems with her ‘attorney management system’ are addressed. The next challenge in the deal was the transfer costs of R890 000, which had to be paid. Janse van Rensburg assured the Findlays that she had sorted it with the Department of Human Settlements and that the deposit would be used to pay the transfer costs, once the tax clearance was received. Janse van Rensburg responded to questions on the matter: “I always made it clear that I have to make a special arrangement with both Human Settlements and SARS to accept it, alternatively he has to pay the R890,000.00 in advance – which he is not able to.”

Advance payments made

When questioned whether she confirmed that she would arrange payment, Janse van Rensburg said: “Correct, again this is me going above and beyond. It is not required of me to do so and the additional work delays any transaction.”

After four months of living in guesthouses and lodges, William became anxious. “We decided to move into a rental property on March 1 as my three sons needed to get settled in their new school. Information wasn’t forthcoming and Zietta was not providing clarity. Our savings were running out and this is when I asked her for an advance payment, which was made in February this year.

It was made in a few separate instalments, of which one was R125 000.” Janse van Rensburg confirms paying an advance: “I did not advise that the transaction would be finalised [by] December 2023.

The agreement was only signed in November 2023. The process is frustrated when the parties were not in a position to fund a transaction, which generally leads to termination. Instead of letting fate take its route, I went above and beyond to make arrangements and obtain a sizeable advance.” William’s father passed away during this time and he received a small inheritance.

“I bought a few sheep and goats and rented a tiny plot to keep them and be able to provide for my family. I gave my wife R25 000 to start a small business while we were waiting for the finalisation of the deal.”

Capitec closes accounts

When media reports surfaced about instances of alleged misconduct by Janse van Rensburg, the Findlays became increasingly worried. William called and asked Janse van Rensburg about her suspension, to which she replied that she was carrying on and that she was appealing the case. According to her, everything was still on track. In late April, Bronwyn’s father went to Janse van Rensburg’s offices to collect the title deed. The visit ended in a heated conversation. On April 27, Janse van Rensburg informed the Findlay Group that she had terminated the mandate and cancelled the deal. She also demanded the advances be paid back to her. A few days later, on May 1, the Findlays accounts were closed.

Was the deal real and legit?

The National Department of Human Settlements’ chief director: communication services, Nozipho Zulu, responded to Lowvelder’s enquiry on Monday, June 10, and stated: “The letter is a fraudulent letter copied from an advertised bid letter.” The department confirmed that it was investigating the matter for further processing. On why the department would deny the authenticity of the deal, as well as where Janse van Rensburg obtained the details, she responded as follows: “Directly from the Department in Tshwane, which I personally attended to. I can only imagine that the Department would not want to be involved with any unnecessary sensation of the media. It can only be because of the unnecessary media sensation that parties wish to distance themselves.” Apart from attempts to get answers from Capitec, the Findlays also laid a complaint against Janse van Rensburg with the LPC on May 3. William said they are at the end of their tether. “We have been open and honest about everything; we are victims in the story but are being treated like criminals.” The Findlays are relying on family to financially assist them and there is little light in the tunnel to finding answers.

Capitec and LPC remain mum about account closures

Attempts to get clarity on the hold on William and Bronwyn Findlay’s accounts have been fruitless.

Apart from being informed that the action had to do with attorney Zietta Janse van Rensburg, the couple has hit a brick wall, despite their enquiries to Capitec. They have also had no relief from a complaint lodged with the Bank Ombudsman.

Capitec’s attorneys, Werksmans Attorneys, responded to the Findlay’s legal representative and said William made an affidavit on May 2 about receiving money from Janse van Rensburg. “Our client is in possession of an affidavit by Mr Findlay, dated 2 May 2024, in which he confirms that he received a payment of R365,000.00 from the suspended attorney (Mrs Zietta van Rensburg) under the pretence of an advance payment, in relation to fraudulent documents and contracts. This evidence clearly contradicts your instructions that the payment was perfectly lawful.”

Werksmans further noted that: “We are engaging with the Legal Practice Council (‘LPC’), who has taken control of the trust account of Mrs van Rensburg, to establish what their position is.

Werksmans also responded to the Findlays reserving their right to go to court in order to regain access to their accounts, and to obtain the reasons for Capitec suspending their account access. They stated: “As discussed, we are of the respectful view that your clients should reconsider their position. Should your clients however choose to launch court proceedings, they will have to cite the LPC in their papers, by virtue of the latter’s interest in the matter, as explained above. Any proceedings so launched will be resisted.”

Last Friday, Lowvelder sent Werksmans and the LPC the following questions. They were not answered by the deadline of Tuesday, June 11.

What Lowvelder wanted to know was:

• Werksmans indicated that the account was stopped due to the affidavit William Findlay made on May 2, yet the accounts were closed on May 1. The firm was asked to provide clarity on the following:
• Findlay’s account access was suspended a day before Capitec received his affidavit. What, then, had prompted the bank to pause his account access?
• Why were the Findlays not given reasons for their account access being suspended?
• Capitec was asked why the bank did not supply the Findlays with proof of any court order or provisional order in terms of which their account access was placed on hold?
• The Findlays reported not having been served with a court order in terms of which their account access was paused. The bank was asked why the sheriff was not instructed to do so?
• Lowvelder asked why the Findlays have not been allowed to oppose the account access suspension?
• If the bank acted on their own accord, Lowvelder asked for prima facie proof that the specific amount mentioned was indeed directly linked to fraudulent activity, as per their response to Mr Findlay’s lawyer?
• Apart from the suspension of Janse van Rensburg – who has only been officially charged in one criminal case, not related to the Findlays – Werksmans was asked to explain:
• On what grounds the bank acted to stop both William and Bronwyn Findlay’s accounts?
• Considering the fact that the Findlays have been unable to access their accounts for six weeks, Lowvelder asked the bank to explain the legal rationale behind actioning the account access pause without providing the account holder with reasons for doing so, or the chance to oppose it?

Werksmans were questioned on the reasonable notice compliance as per the Code of Banking Practice. In terms of banking regulations, there are instances where a bank may close a client’s account immediately and without prior notice. Werksmans were questioned whether any of the following exceptions to the reasonable notice rule applied to the Findlays.

(a) if a banker is obeying a court order; can Werksmans/Capitec provide proof of such an order?
(b) if a client has acted unlawfully; can Capitec prove where Mr Findlay acted unlawfully?
(c) if the client has breached the bank’s terms and conditions; can Capitec provide proof if that was the case?
(d) if the client has acted abusively towards bank staff; can Capitec provide any proof?

The LPC was asked to respond to Werksmans’ claims on their role in the action against the Findlays.

Questions posed to LPC were:

“It seems as if, by implication, Capitec is insinuating that the LPC forms part of the matter explained above.

• Can the LPC confirm whether they have given instruction to freeze/close the accounts of Mr and Mrs Findlay?
• Can the LPC provide proof of a judgment/order that authorised Capitec to freeze the Findlays’ accounts?
• Why would the Findlays need to cite the LPC in court papers should they continue with court proceedings?”

The Findlays now suspect that their property deal was bogus, but no court of law has found Janse van Rensburg guilty of the alleged fraud Werksmans is citing. No criminal charges have been laid by the Findlays yet, but they said they are planning to do so.

Lowvelder has done extensive coverage of Janse van Rensburg’s alleged wrongdoings and is not aware of any other party whose bank accounts have been stopped/frozen.

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