It appears that controversial bridging finance scheme Choice Lifestyle Change had run into serious problems with paying its members in the weeks before director Maarten Stapelberg’s death towards the end of last year. Stapelberg died in Gaansbaai on December 15 leaving investors with no access to their money.
The scheme had faced challenges for almost a month, but it appeared that these came to a head just before Stapelberg’s death.
The first problems were revelealed in a letter sent to Choice Lifestyle members on November 17 by Stapelberg’s fellow director Wouter Botha. He wrote that payments had to be delayed because Stapelberg was in hospital and he was the only person with access to the bank accounts.
“Our crisis is that uncle Martin (sic) is the only person that can release the next two days of funds for payments, therefor (sic) I will be flying down to Cape Town to see him and try to get the funds released,” Botha noted. “This brings us to the place where all appointments unfortunately must be forwarded to next week…. As it was earlier mentioned, our payments take place over a period of three days because we only are allowed a certain amount daily to transfer and it can’t be exceeded.”
It appears that this round of payments was made, but two weeks later, on December 2, members were once again alerted to problems.
“Please take note that we have played (sic) our alloed (sic) quota for the day,” members were told. “The banks are experiencing problems with lines being damaged.”
Four days later, Stapelberg again highlighted challenges with releasing funds to members.
“I am aware of the problems regarding imminent payments and will release the money that Wouter needs as soon as possible,” he wrote to members. “This situation arose from circumstances beyond my control and this will be my first opportunity to resolve the problem as I personally have to go to the bank and sign for the release of the funds.
“I am also aware of your frustration as well as that of all the management and staff of Choice Lifestyle Change and I take full responsibility,” Stapelberg continued. “The reason why Choice exists is because we are trying to help people who are destitute, homeless and without work. The program (sic) is meant to eradicate poverty whilst we put you in a situation where you are able to provide for your family. It has NEVER been meant as a get rich quick scheme.”
On December 12 Botha again wrote an email to members to appeal for patience.
“It has been a tuff (sic) couple of weeks with Maarten falling sick and it being over two pay dates,” he noted. “The unfortunate part is that Maarten needs to personally go to the bank to do business, this how it has been set up and this has how it has always been and deems as security as well. The time frame to release funds takes 48 hours which means if we are lucky, funds will be released by this evening late or most probably after 10 in the morning of the 13th.”
However, it appears that no payments were made on December 13. On December 14, Botha claimed that there had been new issues with the payments.
“As you know the bank told us 48 hours or at least the 13th for release of funds,” wrote Botha. “When it did not release Maarten went to see the bank again only to be told that they are waiting for a tax clearance certificate from Sars before releasing and for some reason there is a delay. Maarten then went to Sars to speed up the process and was told to come back today as they were done for the day. Maarten is therefor (sic) at Sars in Cape Town at 9 this morning and will not leave there until he has the clearance, which he will then take personally to the bank to release our funds.”
On the same day, Choice Lifestyle sent out a new list of ‘opportunities’ for its members, offering even higher than normal interest rates. Instead of the usual 15%, members were offered 16% per month in most instances, and 17.5% for a select few opportunities called ‘money spinners’. Members were encouraged to deposit additional funds to take advantage of these opportunities.
The next day, Botha once again informed members that payments could not still be made.
“It seems that the process that oom Maarten needed to complete for the release of the funds is still in process as he is still busy there,” noted Botha. “He will send an update as soon as he can.”
The following morning, members were told that Stapelberg had died.
The Gansbaai police have confirmed to Moneyweb that an inquest has been opened into his death. Choice Lifestyle has told members that the post mortem identified a number of potential issues, including that Stapelberg had cancer, an enlarged heart and narrowed arteries.
However, police will never open an inquest into a death by natural causes, which rules out the possibility that Stapelberg’s death was caused by any health issues. A final cause of death has, however, not yet been declared as the police are still awaiting lab results on tests of his stomach contents. Suicide is suspected.
Choice Lifestyle was sent a copy of this article for comment prior to publication, but had not responded by the time of publication.