Markus Jooste’s ‘lover’ Berdine Odendaal lives off Steinhoff riches, Reserve Bank suspects
The South African Reserve Bank suspects the ‘lavish lifestyle’ of polo-playing socialite Berdine Odendaal is funded by illicit Steinhoff money channelled to her on the ‘oral instructions’ of her alleged lover, Markus Jooste. What is significant, is that Jooste also seems to have financially gained from the arrangement. The Reserve Bank has consequently blocked Odendaal’s bank accounts and attached her assets as one strand in a broad investigation – codenamed Project Castle – into exchange control transgressions at Steinhoff.
Berdine Odendaal was more than an alleged girlfriend to Markus Jooste, court documents suggest, and may well be funnelling illicit Steinhoff cash back into his pockets while simultaneously living handsomely off the Steinhoff riches.
Odendaal came into money, it seems, after just over R60,5-million in 12 tranches was moved into her accounts from Jooste’s horse racing company, Mayfair Speculators, between 2011 and 2015.
These were recorded as “loans” in Mayfair’s books.
In addition, from as early as 2009 onwards, several properties registered in Odendaal’s name – including a house in Pretoria, properties in Val de Vie, Paarl and a stand at Mabalingwe Nature Reserve in Limpopo – were paid for by Mayfair Speculators.
When Steinhoff came crashing down in December 2017, the SA Reserve Bank (SARB) noticed these transactions, lifted an eyebrow and began investigating.
The bank’s conclusion: Odendaal’s millions originate from Steinhoff’s international operations, finding their way to Mayfair Speculators in a manner that seems to have contravened exchange control regulations.
Consequently, the SARB’s financial surveillance department (FinSurv) in April last year attached her properties, including two cars, and blocked her bank accounts – assets totalling north of R25-million.
This was part of a broad investigation – codenamed Project Castle – into alleged exchange control contraventions at Steinhoff.
There is no indication that Odendaal knew of any alleged illegalities surrounding the millions dropping into her bank accounts, but if the SARB can prove its case, Odendaal’s assets will be forfeited to the state. The attachment and blocking orders may not exceed 36 months unless renewed by court order.
The SARB’s move against Odendaal preceded last week’s attachment and blocking orders against Jooste himself.
The SARB argued Jooste was involved in at least R4.8-billion in money flows that contravened the bank’s regulations. Assets with a realisable value of about R1,4-billion were attached.
The case against Odendaal
The SARB’s case against Odendaal, summarised in papers filed in a fight she took to the Western Cape High Court to wrestle the SARB for access to ever-larger sums of her now-blocked cash, is revealing.
The matter is now in arbitration.
Odendaal told the SARB, for example, that her monthly expenses were in the region of R200,000 – an eye-watering amount that included “pony costs” of R70,000.
The SARB settled on R150,000 per month paid from her personal, blocked funds to cover the “pony costs” and expenses like “hair, makeup, beauty, supplements and healthcare” of R10,000 and “Cape Winelands Storage” of R1,863.
Odendaal has consistently asked for more – including hundreds of thousands of rand, she claimed, to pay equine insurance and legal costs to fight the SA Revenue Service and the SARB.
Suspicious investigators at the SARB refused, instead wanting to know why she never “disclosed any ownership of horses (or ponies)” when asked for a list of assets.
In another example, it seems that Odendaal “allegedly sold” a 2,979m2 property in Val de Vie, Paarl, and channelled R3.5-million of the proceeds to Jooste. When the SARB asked why, her attorneys termed it payback for a “loan”.
The significance of habitual crooks labelling illegal money flows as “loans” – the heist at VBS Mutual Bank is a key example – did not escape investigators.
The Jooste/Odendaal money flows are equal cause for suspicion.
A series of questionable payments from Steinhoff to Odendaal and a lack of satisfactory explanations are why the bank now refuses her any money from the blocked accounts.
Yes, the action may be an infringement of her rights, investigators argued before court, and, yes, it is entirely justified.
“Odendaal has been living a lavish lifestyle, ostensibly funded by Jooste through Mayfair Speculators,” the SARB argued in their papers.
There is some independent support for this suspicion.
In July this year, Odendaal’s polo team, Brigade One, competed in tournaments hosted in Rome and Tuscany, Italy, as published by Huisgenoot here.
Brigade One counted the world’s number one and two ranked players, Hazel Jackson from the UK and Lia Salvo from Argentina, among its ranks – a privilege for which Odendaal is likely to have forked out an additional few hundred thousand rand, apart from covering her own costs.
The SARB argues that “Odendaal does not appear to be a destitute woman for several reasons…”, no less for living on a property at Val de Vie with a market value of R20-million.
Another large question mark is Odendaal describing herself as a “businesswoman”, but the SARB pointed out that she has listed no business interests or related companies when asked to do so. Not even ponies.
“… the Reserve Bank suspects that Odendaal has not been truthful in her representations to the Bank,” investigators said.
Odendaal disclosed her “income” as temporary occupational rent of R100,000 received for a property sold at Val de Vie, interest on a R3-million loan to a company linked to her family, capital repayments of this loan, as well as the interest earned on the cash in her bank accounts.
How Odendaal was to repay north of R60-million in “loans” and property bought by Mayfair Speculators, as well as support her lifestyle, is therefore quite opaque.
Again, the SARB lifted an eyebrow.
“The Reserve Bank formed a suspicion that Odendaal has benefitted from contraventions of the Exchange Control Regulations (in which Jooste and/or Mayfair Speculators were seemingly involved),” investigators argued.
The point here is simply that Odendaal is burning through cash that she did not seem to earn.
This is not illegal or problematic in itself, unless the cash Odendaal is spending counts as illicit money flows and actually belongs to Steinhoff shareholders.
“To allow Odendaal to benefit any further from funds suspected of being involved in the contravention of the Exchange Control Regulations, would be against the public interest, in the absence of a very compelling reason to do so,” investigators told the court.
Any “inconvenience” she may suffer is “justifiable viewed in the context of the purpose of the Regulations”.
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Where does the money come from?
Three months after the SARB blocked Odendaal’s bank accounts and attached her assets, investigators offered reasons for doing so.
These seem to be mainly based on suspected contraventions of Exchange Control Regulations committed by Mayfair Speculators.
The company, the SARB argues, seemed to have declared large payments, originating ultimately from Steinhoff, as repayments of loans. Odendaal benefitted from this “illegal misappropriation of funds”, investigators said.
If found guilty, her assets and cash will be forfeited to the state.
In a letter to Odendaal’s lawyers, De Klerk & Van Gend Inc – the same lawyers used by Jooste – the SARB explained its understanding of how more than R60-million in illicit Steinhoff funds found its way to Odendaal.
To do so, the SARB relies on affidavits by former Steinhoff CFO Theodore de Klerk and partner at PwC Forensic Services, Trevor White, filed in the ongoing legal mud-wrestling between Steinhoff and its creditors. The SARB believes these “affidavits contain detailed allegations and supporting documents”.
De Klerk and White allege that Jooste “misappropriated funds from Steinhoff’s international operations” between 2009 and 2015 in a way that it ended up at his horse racing company, Mayfair Speculators. (The term ‘misappropriation’ could include a variety of financial misdemeanours which may or may not be illegal, like wrongful utilisation, theft, fraud, money laundering, self-dealing and inflated costs.)
The Steinhoff companies referred to here are specifically Steinhoff Holding Polster GmbH, Steinhoff Europe Group Services GmbH, Steinhoff Europe AG and Tau Enterprises GmbH.
“Mr Jooste ostensibly did so by orally instructing” the four Steinhoff-linked companies to make transfers and payments to Swiss-based FiHAG Finanz-und Handels-Aktiengesellschaft and Austrian company Top Global Investments GmbH.
At a cursory glance, these looked like normal business operations. Below the surface, however, more appears to have been going on.
FiHAG and Top Global were not genuine companies. They did not employ anyone, did not conduct business and did not generate income.
In other words, FiHAG and Top Global were shells, used for illicit money transfers, the argument goes.
If FiHAG and Top Global offered no service, there could be no legitimate reason for the Steinhoff payments. Exactly how much was transferred from the Steinhoff-linked companies to the shells FiHAG and Top Global, the SARB does not mention.
The inference that it could be several million rand is supported by the fact that FiHAG and Top Global – again on the alleged oral instruction of Jooste – sent over a chunk to Mayfair Speculators. These transactions were flagged by SARB investigators for possible Exchange Control contraventions.
“There are reasonable grounds to suspect that Mayfair Speculators contravened Exchange Control Regulation 22 when declaring the underlying cause for payments that were received from abroad,” the SARB indicated.
“The category codes under which these transactions were reported are either the repayment of an individual loan to a resident or the repayment of a third-party loan to a resident.”
From here, Odendaal received north of R60-million, as well as a number of expensive properties.
“Monies were allegedly advanced to Ms Odendaal on the instructions of Mr Jooste, which resulted in a steady growth of her loan account with Mayfair Speculators,” the SARB said.
“It appears that there is no evidence of any written loan agreements confirming the quantum or terms of the loans advanced by Mayfair Speculators to Ms Odendaal… Moreover, it appears that several properties registered in Ms Odendaal’s name were paid for by Mayfair Speculators.”
Where did the money go, and how did Jooste benefit?
Between 2009 and 2019, thanks to Mayfair Speculators and Jooste’s goodwill, the polo-playing Odendaal – seemingly jobless – became very wealthy.
She “owned” several high-value properties, including a consolidated property totalling 8,885m2 in Val de Vie, Paarl, land in Mabalingwe, a property in Irene, Pretoria, five vehicles with a total value of R9-million and an amount with at least six zeros in the bank.
The cars include a Bentley Bentayga W12 bought in 2016 for just more than R5-million and a Ferrari California bought in 2015 for almost R4-million.
SARB investigators took a dim view on the accumulated wealth.
“The inference is overwhelming that she used the funds from Mayfair Speculators to acquire the assets.”
If the acquisition made the SARB frown, the manner in which Odendaal “allegedly sold” some of her assets, positively made the alarm bells ring.
The Bentley, valued at R5-million, was “allegedly sold” in October 2019 “for a mere R2-million”. The Ferrari, acquired for R4-million, was “allegedly sold” three years later for about R2.8-million.
Keeping in mind that all money taps were closed after the fraud at Steinhoff was discovered after December 2017, the timing seems to be indicative. Now the SARB demands an explanation for why the Bentley and Ferrari were sold at massive discounts, who the buyers were and into which bank account the proceeds were paid.
Another example of alarm bells ringing is the money that flowed to Jooste.
Odendaal was forced to admit to the SARB that at least R3.4-million made its way to her benefactor from the R15-million in prepaid proceeds in anticipation for the sale of Erf 772 in Val de Vie.
The money flowing to Jooste was payback for a “loan” he gave her to fix her other Val de Vie properties, she claimed.
According to her lawyers: “An amount of R3.4-million was utilised in order to repay a loan that was granted to our client by Mr MJ Jooste, for purposes of continuing with the improvements on Erf 780 and Erf 781.
“This was subsequent to her inability to obtain any further loan finance from Mayfair Speculators. The remaining R11.6-million was paid by [Odendaal] towards the improvements themselves.”
(The original sales agreement has since lapsed. Odendaal subsequently sold Erf 772 to a new owner for R13-million.)
Another question is, “where is all the money?”
From what we know at the moment, Odendaal seems to have received between R80-million and R100-million from Mayfair Speculators, but the assets attached and blocked by the SARB are only worth around R25-million. There is no clear indication whether the rest was splurged or if more of it was channeled to Jooste.
The SARB said “the inference is inescapable that Odendaal has been dissipating some of the assets acquired by her (including the Ferrari and the Bentley), following the [revelation] of the Steinhoff scandal as well as her apparent inability to maintain her former lifestyle”.
Scorpio understands from law enforcement sources that Markus Jooste has no material assets, including bank accounts containing cash, registered in his name in South Africa.
This is an indication that he is probably living off others, sources say. DM