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By Hein Kaiser


Watch: The curious case of Art Viljoen, who allegedly stole millions with his Ponzi scheme

Viljoen sold investments into a gigantic server room which was a front for a Ponzi scheme.

There’s a sucker born every minute, but for every victim there’s a perpetrator and presently, in South Africa, there seems to be a legion of scamsters, fraudsters and racketeers.

Forensic investigator Chad Thomas, who specialises in fraud and financial crimes, said that in many instances, criminals are somehow connected. In the case of Art Viljoen, it was a relationship by marriage, because surprisingly or unsurprisingly, Thomas discovered Viljoen’s move while investigating a different case that involved his cousin.  

“Tinus Janse van Vuuren was involved in selling non-existent crypto products, purportedly from Discovery. Discovery never had such a product,” Thomas said. But it led him to Viljoen.

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Gigantic server room

Thirty-something Joburger Viljoen presented himself as a successful businessman claiming to have unique software for architectural rendering.

“He made out that he had a very unique IP or intellectual property, and as such, architectural firms from around the world could only make use of his software to render drawings for clients.”

Viljoen allegedly had a gigantic server room in operation where each of his architectural firm clients had their own dedicated server stack that processed the high-powered renderings.

WATCH: True Crime – The case of Art Viljoen

Of course, nothing really existed, but Viljoen sold investments into the scheme. However, this supposed cutting-edge technology is thought to have merely a front for a Ponzi scheme, cleverly designed to ensnare investors with the promise of high returns.

“He started taking money from a lot of people. Some of the people he took money from were not the kind of people you want to do business with,” said Thomas. These were people with questionable backgrounds or business interests.

To maintain the facade of success and legitimacy, Viljoen employed various tactics, notably the use of luxury vehicles to impress and reassure his investors. “Every time he was behind in paying any of his investors, he would lend them a vehicle,” Thomas said.

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Viljoen’s efforts to create an illusion of wealth and prosperity was simply another attempt at masking the reality of his fraudulent activities.

Art Viljoen’s scheme starts crumbling

However, the scheme began to crumble as investors demanded their returns. Thomas described the critical turning point: “Things went south for him and eventually some of the people that invested with him wanted their money back, they weren’t prepared to wait for court cases and the wheels of justice.”

This led to Viljoen being forcibly detained by some investors, after which he fled the country, leaving a wake of financial ruin.

“We think he’s in either Germany or Switzerland right now, hiding out,” said Thomas.

The investigator is working with national and global law enforcement agencies to ensure that an international warrant of arrest, or a red notice, gets issued for Viljoen.

“It is uncertain how much he actually stole,” said Thomas, “save to safely say that it was tens of millions of rand.”

Thomas said that since the Covid-19 pandemic there has been a surge of fraud and financial crime. Not just in South Africa, but around the world.

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Thomas also touched upon the broader context of financial scams, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. “The black swan event of Covid just made fraud go to a completely different level.”

A black swan event is a term used to describe an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected, and it usually holds severe consequences. These events are rare but cause widespread impact and occur in economics, health, and finance. The 2008 global financial crisis and the September 11 attacks in the US are good examples that were impossible to predict, until they happened.

And while Viljoen is presently in hiding, Thomas is confident that somewhere, somehow, he will be caught. “The wheels of justice move very slow,” he said, but added that crimes like Viljoen’s might take long to get across the line, but when it does, justice will be served.

Thomas has registered a criminal case which is now the focus of a Hawks investigation.

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