Wednesday, October 6, 2010

More of the Lolly Jackson puzzle unravels as Uwe Gemballa's body is found

Tycoon executed

World-renowned businessman Uwe Gemballa - who ran a company for supercar conversions and disappeared soon after arriving in South Africa this year - has been found murdered.

Gemballa was shot execution-style in the head. His hands were bound behind his back and his body was wrapped and dumped in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria.

The Sunday Times has learnt that two people arrested this week in connection with Gemballa's disappearance are now assisting the police investigation.

News of the tycoon's death comes five months after the high-profile murder of strip-club owner Lolly Jackson by underworld character "Louka", alias George Smith.

Shortly after Jackson's death, details emerged of an offshore money-laundering scheme allegedly involving him and fugitive Czech billionaire Radovan Krejcir.

Investigators believe that Gemballa may have become ensnared in such a scheme.

The German ambassador to South Africa, Dieter Haller, has been notified that Gemballa's body has been found.

Gemballa was under investigation by German authorities for tax evasion and apparently holding an undeclared Swiss bank account.

The discovery of his body threatens to blow wide open an international syndicate - stretching from Switzerland and Germany to Johannesburg - involving alleged money laundering, tax evasion, imported cars stuffed with cash and contract killings.

Gemballa apparently came to South Africa on a business trip to set up a local franchise of his firm, Gemballa Automobiletechni, which specialises in tuning Porsches and Ferraris for the rich and famous.

He disappeared shortly after arriving at OR Tambo International airport from Dubai on February 8.

The remains of his body were found by police on Tuesday.

Police spokesman Colonel Vishnu Naidoo said yesterday: "We are almost certain that it is him, but post-mortem tests still need to be carried out to confirm this 100%."

He added: "We have consulted with the German authorities to identify the body through dental records and DNA testing. Initially police were investigating a missing-person case, but now we have to establish a motive for the murder."

Gemballa's wife, Christiane, is traumatised after being told by German police to expect the worst.

After his disappearance, she hired a private investigator to search for her husband.

A close friend, who acts as a representative of the family in South Africa and who asked not to be identified as he feared for his safety, said: "They told her that they think he is dead. I don't think it's official yet, as they still have to have DNA confirmation .

"When Christiane told me, she was very calm, unlike other times when she was emotional. I think she was preparing herself for the worst. But, still, it is a shock. I'm relieved because at least now the family can get the body back."

He said the family had suspected Gemballa was being held for ransom.

A day after arriving in South Africa, a flustered Gemballa called his wife saying he was involved in a "little accident" and asked her to transfer à1-million (R9.4-million) to a bank account.

She knew something was wrong as he spoke in English - a language they never spoke to each other.

Jackson was gunned down at a Kempton Park home on May 3 by Louka, who fled the country.

His unsolved murder exposed a sophisticated underground network of offshore money laundering and dodgy deals. He was also in trouble with the law and faced a probe by the South African Revenue Service.

The money laundering, allegedly involving Jackson and Krejcir, was outlined in a signed affidavit by former banker Alekos Andreou Panayi, including how Jackson allegedly shifted money offshore into an account accessible by him and Krejcir.

Krejcir - who was in the middle of talks to buy Jackson's multimillion-rand strip-club empire - emerged as a key figure in the investigation into Jackson's death.

Links have also been made between Gemballa and Krejcir, who was said to be prepared to put up money for a local franchise of Gemballa Porsche.

In e-mail correspondence between Gemballa and a known associate of Krejcir, Jerome Saphire, also known as Jerome Safi, the two outlined plans to bring the Gemballa brand to South Africa.

Yesterday, "Safi" told the Sunday Times: "Radovan and Lolly said they would put up the money for the business. We were all excited. I was going to do all his (Gemballa's) travel arrangements, which were going to be paid for by Lolly and Radovan.

"But Mr G (Gemballa) said he would pay for it himself, because he had other business to attend to as well .... All of us were stunned that he did not pitch for our meeting."

When told that Gemballa's body had been found, Safi said: "I'm trembling. My body is cold. That's terrible."

According to three people close to the investigation, imported sports cars were actually a front for money laundering - with cash stashed in door panels.

Krejcir - who, it is claimed, knew Gemballa for 10 years and drives a white Porche with a Gemballa conversion - yesterday said he was a friend and business associate of Safi, but had never met Gemballa, although he had considered going into business with him.

Krejcir said: "I said I would only be interested if there was an exclusivity contract in place with the local agents of Lamborghini, Porsche and Ferrari. I never met or spoke to Gemballa and nothing came of the deal."

Krejcir has previously denied any involvement in money laundering.

Christiane's close friend said yesterday that Gemballa and Krejcir met 10 years ago at the Hilton Hotel in Prague.

A former business associate of Krej-cir, gold refiner Juan Meyer, the owner of Pan African Refineries, said he was not surprised by Gemballa's death. "I was expecting he would be found dead. With the powerful people involved in this thing, I don't think anyone thought he would still be alive."

Meyer clashed with Krejcir after business dealings between the two went sour and now has 24-hour protection.

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