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Dissatisfied deVere customer arrested in Harare for ‘cyber-bullying’

Coreen Lee Kooy was arrested while attending court on a separate civil matter, where deVere sought an interdict to bar her from criticising the company online.
The cyber-bullying charge has since been dismissed. Image: Shutterstock

Zimbabwean mother of four, Coreen Lee Kooy, was arrested in the High Court in Harare on Tuesday on a charge of cyber-bullying, for comments she made on a Facebook page where she criticised financial services group deVere, and founder Nigel Green, for allegedly mis-selling her an education savings plan.

“I am still an existing client of deVere Group Zimbabwe, and they he had me thrown in jail yesterday (Tuesday) as if I’m some hardened criminal.  I’m a mother of four and an ouma to four beautiful grandsons. This is my first harrowing experience with the law,” she told Moneyweb.

The arrest happened as Kooy was seated in the High Court in Harare to answer a different case, whereby deVere sought an interdict barring her from posting critical comments about the company online. That case was dismissed due to a lack of urgency, while Kooy was being escorted to a jail cell on the cyber-bullying charge. She was released later in the day and instructed to re-appear in court on May 26, on the cyber-bullying charge. (It was dismissed as Green, as the UAE-based complainant, was not in court to give testimony.)

Kooy was previously in court in December 2021 when deVere sought an urgent interdict for the same complaint. The judge dismissed that case for lack of urgency.

Kooy says she thought she had bought an education savings plan from deVere for her youngest daughter, but it turned out to be a ‘whole life plan’ which her daughter can only access when she is 33, long past the age at which the funds are needed. She says she has attempted on multiple occasions to get deVere to take responsibility for ‘mis-selling’ her the financial product, and launched a Facebook page to vent her frustration after failing to receive what she believed were satisfactory responses.

Moneyweb approached the deVere Group, which said it could not comment.

A March 2019 legal letter from Phillips Law in Zimbabwe, which represent deVere in that country, claimed Kooy’s matter was reviewed and “it was found that the terms of the contract that you bound yourself to were complied with. We urge you to review the terms of your contracts and cease and desist from conduct that harasses our client.” This letter was sent after Kooy and a friend visited deVere’s offices in Harare with an ultimatum to resolve her complaints. No action was taken by deVere as a result of this ultimatum.

Other similar cases

This is not the first time deVere has taken dissatisfied customers to court on charges of defamation.

UK expat Diane Bentley, now living in France, was hauled twice before French courts, also on charges of defamation and online harassment, after she posted critical comments about deVere and Green on Facebook, for what she claimed was misrepresentation by deVere agents. Bentley and her husband Peter say they were mis-sold a pension product and left seriously out of pocket as a result.

They reported the matter to the Autorité des Marchés Financiers (AMF), which is the French financial authority, claiming they were mis-sold the pension product. The AMF advised the couple to report the matter to the police.

The way they were sold the financial product, they alleged, was done in a manner similar to that for which deVere agreed to agreed to pay an $8 million civil penalty in the US in 2018, after the Securities and Exchange Commission found it had failed to disclose conflicts of interest to clients. DeVere neither confirmed nor denied the SEC’s findings in that matter.

On December 28, 2021, Bentley received a notice from law firm Reed Smith on behalf of deVere, instructing her to delete a number of Facebook posts critical of the company and the advice given by it. The complaints “go manifestly beyond the freedom of speech,” said the lawyers. Bentley complied with the request to remove the comments, but then joined a public Facebook page critical of deVere, after which she says she was charged with criminal defamation and online harassment.

Bentley told Moneyweb that the French courts dismissed deVere’s defamation case on technical grounds, but she expects to be returning to court in the near future as she expects the case to be revived in a different court. Nigel Green and deVere are seeking damages and costs of €60 000 (R1 million) against her. So far, the legal cases have cost her €15 000 (R250 000).

Kooy’s lawyer, Diana Kawenda, told Moneyweb that her client has filed a claim against deVere Zimbabwe based on alleged ‘fraudulent misrepresentation’ by one of deVere’s agents, after she was allegedly mis-sold a product by one of its agents.

“While awaiting the main claim to be determined, deVere has gone on a spate of filing numerous applications before the court as a means of frustrating the main claim,” says Kawenda.

“DeVere approached the High Court of Zimbabwe seeking an interdict barring Coreen Kooy from social media activism (regarding her case). That application was unsuccessful. DeVere proceeded to file another application with the High Court of Zimbabwe seeking an interdict while the main case is pending.

“DeVere alleges that the comments or interactions being done on social media by the Kooys are defamatory and violate the sub judice rule. We are advocating for a right to freedom of speech, and freedom of thought, and we say that the sub judice (already under consideration by the court) rule is not applicable in this case.

“As of Tuesday, the (cyber-bullying) matter was removed from the roll as deVere sought to make additional submissions.”

Read:
FSCA fines Carrick CEO for deVere shortcomings (Aug 2021)
Guernsey regulator clears David Cosgrove publicly (Dec 2020)
Questions raised about deVere South Africa sale (Dec 2019)

Green’s side of the story

On his Facebook page, Green explained that he does not intend to answer accusations against certain deVere entities online:

“All CEO’s receive abuse online to some extent I’m sure. I have been subjected to substantial defamation on Facebook in particular during the last year. Ex clients of deVere Zimbabwe and deVere France plus others who are not even clients or ex clients, have posted negative remarks against me personally on average seven times a day.

“Firstly the accusations against me personally are false. The accusations against certain deVere entities have been investigated by compliance teams and lawyers I thought to be without merit. Secondly, I’m not involved in these companies. I’m a shareholder only. I am not the CEO, key individual or compliance officer of any of the concerned companies I do not intend to answer their accusations online. Their contracts were not with deVere directly in both work times for a very short period. I’ve been patient, we now have to take legal action. The damage is substantial and easy to prove. “

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COMMENTS   1

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This whole story sounds suspect.

It is hard to believe that DeVere actually has clients, never mind ones that disparage them unfairly on social media!

End of comments.

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