BHI Ponzi: Michael Haldane and Sona Pillay granted bail

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By Asime Nyide

In a significant development in the BHI Trust Ponzi scheme case, Michael Haldane and Sona Pillay, two central figures in the scandal, were granted bail at the Palm Ridge Magistrates Court. The decision comes as South Africa grapples with one of its most devastating financial frauds, which has left thousands of investors financially crippled and seeking justice.

The Arrests and Charges

The arrests of Michael Haldane, founder of Global and Local, and Sona Pillay, Managing Director of Rubicon Trust Company Ltd., mark a crucial turning point in the investigation of the BHI Trust Ponzi scheme. Sona Pillay, 54, was apprehended on May 31, 2024, after exiting the country. He was detained upon his return to South Africa at OR Tambo International Airport. Michael Haldane, 55, turned himself in on June 3, 2024. Both were charged with fraud and money laundering and have been in custody pending their bail hearing.

The Affidavit Revelations

The affidavit provided by the prosecution offers a detailed account of the fraudulent activities orchestrated by Haldane and Pillay. According to the affidavit, the BHI Trust scheme lured investors with promises of high returns, often exceeding 10%, by allegedly investing in high-yield, low-risk financial instruments. However, the scheme was a classic Ponzi operation, using funds from new investors to pay returns to earlier investors, thus creating an illusion of profitability and sustainability.

Michael Haldane

Michael Haldane’s role as the founder of Global and Local places him at the center of the BHI Trust Ponzi scheme. Haldane’s deep involvement in the company raises questions about his knowledge and orchestration of the fraudulent activities. How was he able to manipulate financial systems to such an extent, and what regulatory oversights allowed this scheme to persist for over a decade?

Read more: BHI Ponzi : Arrests of key figures in mega-fraud case

According to the affidavit, Haldane has substantial ties within South Africa. He is a South African citizen, born in Port Elizabeth, and has resided in Sandton, Johannesburg for over 22 years. His family trust, the Open Range Family Trust, holds assets including a family home valued at approximately R4 million, household contents worth R1.5 million, and three motor vehicles collectively valued at R1.4 million. Haldane also has international assets, including an apartment in Malta valued at €300,000, shares worth €205,000, and residency status in Malta, which he obtained in 2019 for ease of travel.

Haldane’s personal history reflects strong local ties, having attended high school in Bryanston and completing his tertiary education in KwaZulu Natal. He has worked in various companies within the insurance and medical aid industries before forming Global and Local Financial Consultants CC in 1999. Despite selling Global and Local Investment Advisors (Pty) Ltd in December 2023 due to negative publicity from the BHI Trust scandal, Haldane maintains his innocence, emphasizing his cooperation with the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) and the liquidators of BHI Trust.

Sona Pillay

One of the significant points raised during the hearing was Pillay’s recent trip overseas, which led to his detention in the United States. Pillay clarified that he left South Africa on May 28, 2024, from OR Tambo International Airport with his wife and three other couples. This trip was not an attempt to evade authorities but was due to winning a prize at Emperors Palace Hotel, Casino, and Convention Resort. The prize included an all-expenses-paid trip to Las Vegas, which Pillay and his wife were scheduled to attend from May 28 to June 3, 2024. As the Managing Director of Rubicon Trust Company Ltd., Pillay’s role in the Ponzi scheme was crucial. His actions and subsequent arrest highlight the collaborative nature of the fraud. What was Pillay’s exact role, and how did his activities support the scheme’s longevity?

Pillay’s gambling activities and transactional records were detailed in the affidavit, revealing a modus operandi to convert legitimate investor deposits into cash through his personal bank account. He visited Sun City Casino approximately 131 times between November 2019 and January 2024, placing bets amounting to R797,427,592.76 and withdrawing R782,038,533.52. This conduct was repeated at various other casinos, moving a staggering R93 million in the same manner. After Craig Warriner’s surrender in October 2023, Pillay moved an additional R14 million at Sun City using the same methods, effectively “cleaning” proceeds equivalent to almost 50% of the stolen investor funds.

Allegations 

The affidavit also outlined allegations against Michael Haldane. Complainants alleged they were lured into investing with BHI Trust on Haldane’s recommendation and assurance. At his company, GLIA, he marketed the BHI Trust and BHI Plus investment to prospective investors. Together with Sona Pillay and Katrinos Cost, they facilitated the BHI schemes and were compensated by way of commission.

Haldane was also alleged to be the Principal and/or Director of several corporate entities used as conduits for expatriating funds belonging to BHI’s investors. He reportedly informed investors that only a portion of their investment would be traded in South African listed shares, with no mention of channeling their funds to offshore trusts. Additionally, after resigning as co-director of Amalgam in October 2017, there was a transfer of R45 million to the Trovara Trust and the Shangren Trust, where Haldane was the ultimate beneficiary.

Bail Hearing and Conditions

Today’s bail hearing was highly anticipated. The defense argued that both Haldane and Pillay had cooperated with the investigation and posed no flight risk, emphasizing their strong community ties and willingness to adhere to bail conditions.

The Judge granted bail, setting the amount at R100,000 each. The conditions of their bail include surrendering their passports, reporting to the nearest police station twice a week, and refraining from contacting any witnesses or potential co-conspirators.

Unraveling the Scheme

The BHI Trust Ponzi scheme, which began in 2008, has been a devastating blow to the South African financial sector. Investors were drawn in by the promise of consistent and substantial returns, backed by what appeared to be a reputable and legitimate operation. However, the scheme’s collapse has exposed significant regulatory oversights and systemic weaknesses within the financial oversight framework.

Read more: BHI Ponzi kingpin Craig Warriner sentenced to 25 years

According to the affidavit, the scheme’s sustainability relied heavily on the continuous influx of new investments. When the flow of new funds eventually slowed, the scheme began to falter, leading to delayed payouts and increasing investor suspicions. The financial misrepresentations became apparent, and the subsequent investigations revealed the extent of the fraud, implicating Haldane and Pillay as central figures in the operation.

The Broader Impact

The BHI Trust Ponzi scheme has had far-reaching implications, not just for the victims but also for the broader financial industry. The case has highlighted critical gaps in regulatory oversight and the need for more robust safeguards to prevent similar schemes from taking root. Questions remain about how such a large-scale fraud could persist for so long without detection, pointing to potential lapses in the vigilance of regulatory bodies.

Looking Ahead

As the legal process continues, the focus will be on uncovering the full extent of the fraudulent activities and identifying all parties involved. The investigation is expected to expand, potentially bringing more individuals, such as Katrinos (Kaddy) Cost, Andre du Toit, and Mauro Forlin, under scrutiny. The affidavit indicates that these associates played significant roles in supporting the scheme’s operations, suggesting a more extensive network of complicity.

For the defrauded investors, the road to recovery is fraught with uncertainty. Many have lost their life savings and are now grappling with the financial and emotional fallout of the scheme. The challenge lies in tracing and recovering the lost assets, a process that is often complex and protracted.

The granting of bail to Michael Haldane and Sona Pillay marks a crucial juncture in the BHI Trust Ponzi scheme investigation. As the court proceedings continue, the detailed revelations from the affidavit will play a vital role in understanding the inner workings of the scheme and ensuring that justice is served. The case serves as a stark reminder of the importance of rigorous oversight and the need for greater transparency and accountability within the financial sector. As more details emerge, the financial community will be watching closely, seeking answers and accountability in the wake of one of South Africa’s most significant financial frauds. The court is set to resume proceedings on October 16, 2024.

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