Papers filed in the Pretoria High Court show that South African officials are demanding R115 million from Switzerland for victims of a R4 billion pyramid scheme called Travel Ventures International (TVI), the Sunday Times reports.
Alleged TVI mastermind Tarun Trikha turned $36 million (R561 million) over to the Swiss in 2016, reportedly as part of a plea deal the Indian national made with the Bern government.
The Swiss released $4 million (R62 million) to Trikha as part of the deal, and ultimately $20 million (R312 million) was seized by the state. It is unclear what happened to the balance.
Veteran journalist Tania Broughton reported for The Mercury in 2012 about the collapse of TVI, which was considered South Africa’s biggest pyramid scheme at the time.
The South African Reserve Bank deemed TVI an unlawful scheme in 2011 and appointed attorney Johan Kruger as an inspector to investigate and take action.
Kruger has since been appointed as repayment administrator for the case by the Prudential Authority.
Kruger explained in the court papers that TVI surfaced in India in 2008 and spread to over 150 countries.
Participants bought worthless “travel vouchers” for R2,700 each. They would progress along a “traveller board” by marketing the scheme before moving to the “express board”.
Moving from one board to the next came with a promise of a R108,000 reward.
Reporting for the Sunday Times, Broughton quoted Kruger saying that 25 South Africans have been convicted so far. He has also instituted legal proceedings against those implicated to take control of their assets.
After finding out that victims’ money had been located in Swiss bank accounts, Kruger said he tried to have it returned.
Kruger said he appointed a Swiss law firm to act on his behalf and met several high-ranking officials in Bern, but nothing has come of it.
The source of the money seized by the Bern government was reportedly traced to the South African bank accounts of TVI “distributors” who convinced as many as 600,000 people to put money into the scheme.
According to the court documents, TVI made almost R4 billion in South Africa alone.
Swiss officials initially agreed that some of the money should be returned to South Africa, Kruger stated, but they backtracked and questioned his authority.
They also informed Kruger that South African victims would have to make individual applications to recover money they believed they had lost.
Kruger approached the High Court in October 2021 for an order confirming his authority. The Swiss did not oppose his application.
The Swiss embassy told the Times it would not comment on legal proceedings.