Durban – Sabelo Mdlovu worked as a gardener for Charlotte Davies at her Homeford Drive home in the upmarket suburb of La Lucia more than 10 years.
Davies, 92, had no children or any living relatives in South Africa and whose husband – a diamond dealer in Johannesburg had died years ago – was according to her neighbour, Ferdinand Zondagh, a recluse whose only regular human interaction was with Mdlovu.
So when she died on September 15, 2012, it came as a big surprise to Mdlovu that she had bequeathed the bulk of her estate worth nearly R60 million to her neighbour, Adline Pillay – and only left him R600 000.
What came next was a four-year police investigation that included probing bank statements, offshore accounts and handwriting experts that culminated in Pillay and her two attorneys, Rodney Reddy and P Ramjathan appearing in the Durban Commercial Crime Court on Thursday. They face charges that include fraud, forgery, theft and money laundering.
Their arrests came on the same day that the Assets Forfeiture Unit (AFU) made a successful application to attach a R5.8 million property in La Lucia and freeze more than R2.3 million held in Standard Bank account which they alleged are proceeds of crime.
A notice of motion filed by the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Kenneth Samuel of the Assets Forfeiture Unit in KwaZulu-Natal in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act outlines how Pillay with the help of the two attorneys allegedly forged the will of Davies to take control of her multi-million rand estate.
The charges were laid against Pillay by Mdlovu with the help of Zondagh, a lawyer based in Pretoria but who owned a guest house not far from where Davies lived in La Lucia.
It was Zondagh who was able to track down a signature Davies made in 2008 which a handwriting expert alleged did not match the will that made Pillay the executrix of her estate.
In an interview with the Daily News, Zondagh said that Mdlovu approached him in 2014 after he could not shake off the feeling that he may have been swindled.
While he initially helped Mdlovu, Zondagh is now acting on behalf of Davies only known surviving relatives, Landgraf and Barbara Pane, her niece nephew who live in Germany.
According to court papers, the drama began when Mdlovu arrived at work on September 15, 2012. After knocking repeatedly and getting no response from Davies, Mdlovu called the police who forcibly gained access to the property. They discovered that Davies had passed away.
Court papers say that Mdlovu asked Pillay, Davies neighbour to assist him with the funeral arrangements as Davies had no relatives in South Africa.
Mdlovu alerted police and Pillay to a safe in the house. AFU court papers allege that after the safe was opened, a will, a few loose papers and old spoons were discovered inside.
“Pillay and Mdlovu went to Rodney Reddy & Associates who were the attorneys that had prepared the will. The last Will and Testament of Davies was signed in Durban on 21 January 2010,” the AFU court motion said.
A forensic analyst employed by the police who went over signatures made by Davies in 2008 and around the same time she allegedly signed the will revealed that signature on the will was forged.
The will made Pillay the executrix of the estate and bequeathed R600 000 to Mdlovu – of which R100 000 was to be used specifically for his minor children’s education.
The remainder and residue of the estate were left to Pillay for her sole use and benefit.
Last Thursday Pillay, Reddy and Ramjathan were given R2000 bail each and told to appear in the Commercial Crime Court again on February 4.