MD probed over ‘fishy’ farm ownership

By Marianne Nghidengwa

AN elderly local couple only allegedly learned this year that their most primed farm in Otavi for several decades no longer belong to them but to Ohorongo Cement managing director Hans Wilhelm-Schutte (53) and his wife.

This follows a long-running dispute, with the alleged role of Hans Wilhelm-Schutte as well as prominent lawyers in acquiring the farm worth N$5 million under the spotlight.

Farm Vrede in the Otavi district, measuring some 2 420 hectares, belonged to an indigenous man, 82-year-old Gert Hendrik van Rensberg and his wife, but all indications are that they lost ownership of it through an alleged dubious scheme, which the police suspect involved fraud and forgery.

Documents reviewed by Confidente show that Wilhelm-Schutte and his wife now own 50 percent each of Farm Vrede, following years of questionable selling and transfers of the farm’s shares between lawyers and other officials since 1996 and eventually to the Schuttes.

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Wilhelm-Schutte this week initially said he was not aware of ongoing police investigations into how he acquired shares of Farm Vrede. “I am not aware of that. It’s too early to discuss the matter but the best is that you speak to my legal representative,” he said.

Pressed for comment on how he acquired Farm Vrede, Wilhelm-Schutte referred ques- tions to Willem Visser of Weder, Kauta and Hoveka Inc law firm. On second thoughts, he said the police investigations were against pre- vious owners of Farm Vrede where he bought it from. “It has nothing to do with me.”

Visser in turn said, “We are not in posses- sion of the police docket so there is nothing I can say at this stage. To interfere now will be detrimental to my client,” he said.

Prosecution officials who spoke off the record, said the findings of the Namibian Police investigation thus far point to the likelihood of “a well-organised syndicate” involving prominent lawyers and other top officials in allegedly swindling indigenous local people, like Van Rensberg, out of their farms – at little or no cost.

Confidente was made to understand that the syndicate’s operations and modus operandi had the elements of a criminal conspiracy and flew in the face of government’s willing-buyer, willing-seller policy, which requires consent by both parties to any land sale.

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Van Rensberg reportedly only learned earlier this year that he and his wife were no longer the owners of their most primed farm, which had been in his family for decades.

A source with knowledge of the case told Confidente that investigators were looking into a range of documents related to the case, dating back to 1996 when Van Rensberg’s Farm Vrede first became a target for acquisition.

The issue came to light when Van Rensberg in 2010 lodged a case of theft, following the disappearance of his water engine pump valued at N$12,100 from his Olifantsspoor Farm, also situated in the Otavi district, adjacent to Farm Vrede.

Confidente reported a fortnight ago that in August 2010 after Van Rensberg lodged a case of theft over his pump (CR02/09/2019), three people were initially arrested in connection with the alleged theft, but it later emerged that their arrest was wrongful. This led to the case being closed.

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The suspects subsequently filed a defamation lawsuit against Van Rensberg in the Windhoek High Court, but he won that case.

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After the first police case fell through, Wil- helm-Schutte was arrested and appeared in the Otavi Magistrates Court a fortnight ago over the alleged theft of the water pump. The charge is that he stole the pump from Van Rensberg at Olifantsspoor Farm in the Otavi District in 2010 – presumably to frustrate the old man.

In what is said to have been a potentially costly mistake, Wilhelm-Schutte reportedly approached Van Rensberg in November 2017 – 10 years after the pump went missing – to confess that he’d indeed taken the water engine pump without permission and that he would buy Van Rensburg a new similar machine for the inconvenience he caused the old man.

The Ohorongo Cement MD eventually bought a similar machine and gave it to Van Rensburg in January 2018. It is understood that he only approached Van Rensberg to make amends – using the pretext of a neighbourly visit – after the police re-opened investigations into the matter.

Van Rensberg told Confidente in Otavi two weeks ago that he believes the “gift” from Wilhelm-Schutte was payment for the ordeal of the lawsuit and not necessarily for the machine he lost.

Wilhelm-Schutte is out on N$5 000 bail until his next court appearance in the Otavi on 31 January 2020. The MD was warned not to make any direct or indirect contact with the complainant or in any way attempt to interfere with state witnesses.

The police this week said the tussle over Van Rensberg’s second farm, Olifantsspoor near Etosha also forms part of ongoing investigations. They said mortgage bond documents related to the farm that appear to have been forged were discovered in the course of their probe.

It is suspected that the forged documents were to be used to force Van Rensberg off Farm Olifantsspoor. Prominent lawyers and other high-ranking officials implicated are being questioned over their involvement in the matter.

Olifantsspoor Farm is believed to have a wealth of minerals and is viable for tourism activities, owing to its close proximity to the Etosha Pan.