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Model sues finance minister for R1bn for soured relationship

2018-12-04 00:00

Court papers cite reputational damage following R212m ‘donation’ that led to a dispute with Sars.

Lingerie model Candice van der Merwe plans to sue Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni for a staggering R1 billion over alleged violations of her rights and damage to her reputation.

The 26-year-old model says she has been harassed for years over a $15.3 million (R212 million) donation she received from a “companion”.

In the latest set of draft court papers, which have been sent to the finance minister along with a letter of demand, the companion is identified as Saad Hariri, the spectacularly wealthy prime minister of Lebanon.

Van der Merwe’s attorney, Tim Dunn, would neither confirm nor deny that Hariri was the man in question.

In earlier court papers, Van der Merwe said she could only think that it was her “engaging personality, healthy lifestyle and sober habits” that made her so popular at The Plantation resort in the Seychelles, a secretive luxury playground for the super-rich.

According to Van der Merwe, her agency, Ice Models, regularly sent models to this island, where the richest of the rich can relax in absolute privacy.

The models’ passports are taken away when they arrive and they are not allowed to take any photos or tell stories of what happens there, said Van der Merwe.

The first two times she went, she flew economy class, but thereafter flew business or first class.

All the travel arrangements were made by Ice Models, and she sometimes had to be available at just a few hours’ notice.

She met Hariri at The Plantation.

Along with the multimillion-dollar donation, Van der Merwe was given an Audi R8 and a Range Rover Evoque – together, worth R2.7 million – as presents, she claims. This after she let slip on the island that these were her favourite cars.

In correspondence between the SA Reserve Bank and Standard Bank, the relationship between the donor and Van der Merwe is described as a “boyfriend/girlfriend situation”.

Since 2013, the SA Revenue Service (Sars) has suspected that the gift was money belonging to her father, businessman Gary van der Merwe, and subjected the two to a tax investigation.

But documents in possession of City Press’ sister newspaper, Rapport, show that Sars and Van der Merwe have buried the hatchet, after she paid R44 million in income tax in 2016.

Although donations by foreigners are not taxable, the settlement that Van der Merwe reached with Sars has now seen the money being classified as “other income”.

In Van der Merwe’s claim against the minister, she alleges that Sars knew all along that the money was actually a donation, but failed to disclose this fact in litigation related to this matter.

This omission by Sars has caused her immeasurable damage, she claims.

In a letter sent by her lawyer to Treasury it states: “The plaintiff’s relationship with Mr Hariri was terminated, which resulted in the loss of financial benefits that would have accrued to her from the relationship if it had been allowed to persist without outside interference.”

The court cases and the accompanying publicity strained the relationship between her and her father so much that they became estranged for a time. Certain friends and business associates were also hesitant to be associated with her, she said.

As a result of Sars’ conduct, Van der Merwe said she still could not practise her chosen profession, modelling.

According to her 2014 tax return, attached to the letter sent to the minister, she earned R3 333 from an advertising agency and her declared income from other modelling work came to R11 530. The year before that, she earned just over R20 000 from modelling.

The donation in 2013 was a round figure of $15 299 965.

Van der Merwe said in previous court papers that she used R98.6 million of that money to buy three properties in Cape Town. A further R25 million was loaned to Luera Movables, a company her father is involved in.

Her father was also the agent who facilitated the receipt of the donation at Standard Bank.

Van der Merwe said she used her father as an agent for her financial affairs because she did not have any grounding in business and because he was an experienced businessman.

These factors caused Sars, who were involved in a dispute with her father, to become suspicious about the transaction.

Van der Merwe said it was embarrassing and utterly inconvenient to continuously ask a curator for her own money when her assets were frozen.

Among other things, she said, she needed money for four “domestic servants”, four gardeners and groundsmen, as well as three security guards.

Treasury spokesperson Jabulani Sikhakhane confirmed that it had received the letter about the new court case, but said: “Unfortunately, we cannot comment on this at the moment.”

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December 9 2018