Joburg court delivers crushing verdict against Sasfin bank
Johannesburg businessman Damon Greville defended himself in the South Gauteng High Court this week against Sasfin Bank, which liquidated his 67 year-old business in 2012 and is now attempting to repossess his house. The judge found “substantive evidence” that the bank’s legal standing was in question after Greville presented evidence of securitisation and “contradictory” accounting by the bank.
Johannesburg businessman Damon Greville, whose 67 year old printing business was liquidated by Sasfin Bank in 2012, was this week gifted a victory in the South Gauteng High Court when his case was referred to trial.
The case is particularly interesting from at least one angle: Sasfin Bank pioneered securitisation in South Africa, and Greville claims that his loan has been securitised, thereby removing the bank’s legal standing to bring any action against him.
In addition to the securitisation argument, Greville says his debt to the bank has already been discharged. After accounting for payments already made from the sale of his company assets at auction, he says the bank now owes him close to R600,000.
The judgment handed down by the court could be a major victory for the “securitisation defence” as it has come to be known. Securitisation is the banks’ practice of bundling loans together and on-selling them to investors, though the banks continue to act as collection agents for the new owners, which is expressly forbidden in terms of Section 78 of the Banks Act.
Once securitisation has occurred, the banks – in theory – lose all legal title to these loans and cannot proceed against borrowers. This has been validated by case law overseas, but the courts in South Africa have tended to give the banks a free pass on this shadowy practice. This latest judgment is therefore a major victory for those arguing the securitisation defence.
Greville represented himself in court, presenting what the judge called “substantive evidence” casting doubt on Sasfin Bank’s legal standing in the matter. Greville provided evidence that his loan with the bank had been securitised, and was now owned by an entity called SA Securitisation Programme (HF) Ltd.
The judge also found discrepancies in Sasfin’s accounting. Greville claims that rather than he owing the bank money, the bank owes him. By his own calculations, the bank now owes him close to R600,000, but is trying to foreclose on his house claiming an outstanding debt of R333,000.
“I feel vindicated that the court found merit in my arguments that the bank had destroyed a viable business employing 24 people, when I provided evidence in court that Sasfin had securitised my loan, which means they don’t have legal standing in the matter. Now the matter must go to trial, which is a victory for me, as it means we can call bank officials to the witness stand and interrogate them.”
Greville adds that Sasfin sold his business’s assets for roughly 20% of their worth, and then tried to foreclose on his house. This was the point when he started to investigate the law and study up on securitisation.
In papers placed before the judge, Greville claimed not only that the bank’s accounting was bogus, but asked for R20 million for restitution and damages for the destruction wrought by the bank’s actions.
“What is heartbreaking is that the business has been around for 67 years, longer than Sasfin Bank. It was a viable and solvent business,” he says.
The Judge found discrepancies in the Certificate of Balance presented by the bank’s lawyers before the court. The bank, having previously liquidated Greville’s business and equipment, had applied to the court to execute on his house.
This judgment reads: “The Applicant (Sasfin) also decided to re-cast its case in its Replying Affidavit, thereby furnishing a new Certificate of Balance, which did not even reflect the name of the Applicant. In doing so, the Applicant went further to amend its Notice of Motion in order to cover the inaccurate calculations of the amount allegedly owed by the Respondents (Greville and Advance Printing). I must point out that although the Applicant in the new case that it makes out with Amended Notice of Motion, seeks to rely on the new Certificate of Balance, the order sought in the Amended Notice of Motion in relation to the date from which interest is to be paid, contradicts what is provided in the said Certificate of Balance.”
This amounts to a searing indictment of the case the bank presented to the court.
The battle is not yet over for Greville, who is asking the court to award him R20 million in damages for what he claims were reckless and unlawful actions taken by the bank that resulted in the closure of his business. The case should provide legal fodder for thousands of other South Africans under the threat of the banks’ knives.
The facts of the case are this: in 2008 Greville asked Sasfin to finance the purchase of a building to accommodate his expanding business, and the bank agreed. According to Greville’s papers before the court, Sasfin decided it would rather take its security on the plant and machinery of his business, Advance Printing, in preference to registering a bond over the factory property. It then seems the bank changed its mind and took out bonds on both the plant and machinery, and the factory building.
The finance agreement for the purchase of the building had suddenly turned into a lease for equipment, which was previously owned unencumbered by Advance Printing. This, says Greville, makes the loan agreement defective.
By 2011 the credit crunch was reaching its peak, and Nedbank withdrew Advance Printing’s overdraft facility. The business fell three months into arrears with its Sasfin debt. A meeting with Sasfin Bank seemed in order to resolve the matter. It seemed the only way out was to sell the factory building and plant so the bank could recover its money. So far, so good.
At this meeting Greville asked whether his loan had been securitised and, after a pregnant pause and much humming and hawing, he left none the wiser. He says he was then put under pressure to sign an irrevocable power of attorney authorising the bank to sell the property at auction “at a reasonable market related price,” and a reserve price of R1,75 million was agreed in writing and emailed through to the bank. In February 2012 Greville says he received an offer for R1,9 million for the building, which he rejected as too low.
Just a couple of months earlier a similar building directly across the road had been sold for R2.5 million.
On 6 October 2012 Greville was advised by Alon Berman of Sasfin Bank that the property would be sold for R1.6 million. Greville immediately protested, and fired off a letter to the bank revoking his power of attorney. The bank ignored this and went ahead with the sale anyway.
The factory equipment was also put up for auction. One item, a Fuji 65IIP printing machine was sold for R35,000 when Greville had a buyer lined up prepared to pay R120,000.
After liquidating his business and selling of his assets, the bank still claimed an amount of R348,000 from Greville and approached the court for an execution order on his house, “when in all likelihood they were aware that they (Sasfin) were in fact indebted to respondents in the amount of R383 625. Included in the applicant’s Notice of Motion they inadvertently inserted a Certificate of Balance in the name of the South African Securitisation Programme (HF) Ltd., giving prima facie and unrefuted evidence that the loan agreement had indeed been securitised,” according to papers before the judge this week.
The bank later tried to have this piece of evidence withdrawn. This, says Greville, is clear evidence that Sasfin no longer has legal title to his loan, because it has been on-sold to SA Securitisation Programme (HF) Ltd.
“On being challenged in the respondents’ Responding Affidavit, the applicant changed their claim to R333 131 and sought to withdraw and replace their incriminating Certificate of Balance.”
Greville says in his papers that as it is “impossible for the applicant to restore the respondents to their positions prior to the applicants fraudulent action, i.e. to reconstitute Advance Printing Company and put it back in business, and to re-employ the staff who lost their jobs, and to make up lost income.” He is seeking restitution and costs of R20 million, plus further damages.