Working in cahoots with a dodgy “diamond dealer” to siphon off hundreds of thousands of rands from clients while dipping into money that should have been held in trust, are among charges a former lawyer from Port Elizabeth is facing.
Louis Erasmus, 56, will face 56 counts, ranging from theft and money laundering to contravening the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, the Attorney’s Act as well as the Administration of Estates Act when his trial starts in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court.
Erasmus was arrested on Wednesday and appeared briefly in court on the same day.
He was released on warning and told to appear on May 21.
According to the charge sheet, Erasmus – who has represented a number of high-profile clients, including alleged gang kingpin Shaun Ah Shene and career criminal Andries “Oom Dries” Marais – allegedly dipped into the trust account set up to receive payments made to clients from the Road Accident Fund (RAF) after they had been seriously injured in car accidents.
Some of his alleged victims were children injured in car crashes.
Documents before court detail the sordid allegations of how, with the help of “diamond dealer” Giel Mans – who made national headlines in 2011 when he staged his own kidnapping – Erasmus cashed various cheques for amounts ranging between R2 000 and R50 000.
That money was allegedly taken from a Standard Bank trust account set up for his own law firm, Louis Erasmus Associates, after he left his previous position as a partner at Clark and Erasmus Inc.
Through an alleged mutual agreement, Erasmus left Clark and Erasmus Inc in 2009, after which he and Gregory Clark – the other partner – continued the respective cases they had been attending to in their individual capacities. Clark and Erasmus Inc ceased operating on May 31 2010 and Erasmus then started Louis Erasmus Associates the next day.
Between August 2011 and July 2012 Erasmus allegedly withdrew various cheques from the trust account in the name of Louis Erasmus Associates in favour of either Mans or William Tuck, who then in turn allegedly returned the cash to Erasmus.
In total more than R1.2-million was allegedly siphoned off from the trust account meant for various clients.
Hawks spokeswoman Captain Anelisa Feni said the Hawks had begun investigating Erasmus after clients became concerned about the finances held in trust by Louis Erasmus Associates.
“The investigation by the Hawks was as a result of his clients’ stresses which led to his capture,” Feni said.
At one stage Erasmus represented Mans when he was on trial for running a Ponzi scheme in which he posed as a commodities trader who specialised in diamonds.
At the time Mans told investors he was in a position to purchase diamonds at a relatively low cost in South Africa and elsewhere in Africa and then resell them for profits of between 50% and 70% and in cases even 150%, in London.
He was jailed for 12 years in 2015 on charges of fraud and theft, some of forgery relating to bank statements, and one of defeating the ends of justice for pretending he had been kidnapped to try to get out of paying his investors.
The judgment lists seven people who had invested amounts ranging from R25 000 to R3-million with Mans, never to see their money again.
His kidnapping ruse was short-lived when pictures of him surfaced on social media.
Erasmus is accused of stealing from seven clients, with amounts stolen ranging from R25 000 to R231 000.
He is also charged with contravening the Attorney’s Act when he represented Brandon Kraut and Andries Marais on separate occasions between 2012 and 2014.
Court papers show that between 2014 and 2015 Erasmus was not allowed to represent any clients in court as he was not in possession of a valid Fidelity Fund Certificate.
Between June and November 2014 Erasmus represented Marais, who has since been found guilty on nine charges ranging from fraud, forgery and theft to attempting to defeat the ends of justice and is due to be sentenced on May 7.
Erasmus faces further charges of contravening the Administration of Estates Act in that he was appointed curator of funds received from the RAF without the proper powers.