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Court hears EU banned Zebediela Citrus over cheating

Jan 22 2016 14:27
News24 Correspondent

Polokwane - The North Gauteng High Court Polokwane Circuit Court has heard that Zebediela Citrus was ordered to stop exporting citrus fruits to the European market, because of fraudulently packaging citrus fruit attacked with black spot, a fungal disease which at present is not found in Europe.

The court on Thursday dismissed Zebediela Citrus' application to stop Henley Property, a strategic management company, from running the multimillion rand citrus estate.

Bjwatladi Communal Property Association, beneficiaries of a land restitution programme, approached the court to end ten years of business dealings. The association's legal representative, Advocate Piet Louw, told the court that his clients wanted to end the relationship because Henley Group had mismanaged the estate.

Louw said the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries found that the managing company had cheated on a European Union export clause. He said the company coded oranges as destined for the European market, even though the produce was not certified for this market.

Europe has banned citrus imports from South Africa, after finding citrus shipments with black spot disease. Fruit growers in southern Europe fear contamination of their own citrus produce, although the disease is not harmful to consumers.

In court papers, the applicants also argued that the elements of fraud found in the export cheating scandal betrayed the community's trust.

The estate has six units, only two of which have been certified for exports.

"What we trying to show is that the management mismanaged the farm and failed to comply with the European Union standard," argued Louw.

Meanwhile, the application by Henley Group to have the matter struck off the roll was dismissed.

The group's legal representative, Advocate Cedric Puckrin, wanted the court not to consider the EU cheating scandal, arguing that is a criminal case pending in court.

He also argued that the association's application is illegitimate, as it was not mandated by the majority of members.

But Judge President Ephraim Makgoba dismissed the application, saying it was late, informal and leaved much to be desired.

Makgoba said failure by the defence to make the application in terms of the rule of law also disadvantaged the applicant's opportunity to prepare its case.

Henley Group is owned by the Boyes brothers. Its three employees were arrested by the Hawks in December 2015 for fraud.

The hearing continues on Friday.

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