Get Cheeky! Jilted play­ers sue Wat­son

EP stars file court pa­pers tar­get­ing per­sonal pock­ets of for­mer ex­ecs

Weekend Post (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Kathryn Kim­ber­ley and Michael Kim­ber­ley kim­ber­leyk@ti­soblack­star.co.za

THE liq­ui­dated Eastern Prov­ince Rugby (Pty) Ltd has barely made a dent in its in­sur­mount­able debts, hav­ing man­aged to cough up only R423 000 of the al­most R24-mil­lion owed to some of its for­mer play­ers. Fed-up, 18 jilted pro­fes­sional rugby play­ers have now tar­geted the per­sonal pock­ets of for­mer EP Rugby Union (EPRU) pres­i­dent Cheeky Wat­son, then chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Charl Crous and two com­pany direc­tors in fresh lit­i­ga­tion be­fore the Port El­iz­a­beth High Court. In the lat­est set of pa­pers, play­ers such as Michael van Vu­uren, Tim White­head, Scott van Breda and Ron­nie Cook have ac­cused Wat­son, Crous and direc­tors at the time, Shel­ley-Ann Baatjies and Ver­non Stu­ur­man, of be­ing party to EP Rugby’s fraud­u­lent, or at the very least, reck­less acts.

Since the liq­ui­da­tion, EPRU, un­der the new lead­er­ship of pres­i­dent An­dre Rade­man, has re­cov­ered, re­port­ing a R3-mil­lion profit at its an­nual meet­ing in Fe­bru­ary. The jilted play­ers claim they are still owed at least R23.4-mil­lion, de­spite a court or­der dat­ing back more than two years.

They say that for four years, Eastern Prov­ince Rugby was run reck­lessly, or with the in­ten­tion to de­fraud those to who it owed mil­lions of rands.

There­fore, they be­lieve it is up to the those at the helm at the time to set­tle the out­stand­ing debts to the play­ers. The play­ers will now ask the court for an or­der declar­ing Wat­son, Crous, Baatjies and Stu­ur­man li­able in pro­vi­sions of the Com­pa­nies Act. Other mem­bers may be added at a later stage. EP Rugby was liq­ui­dated in May last year. It spi­ralled into mil­lions of rands of debt, ac­cu­mu­lat­ing a loss of R28-mil­lion in 2012, and R33-mil­lion the fol­low­ing year. Its as­sets were mean­while only val­ued at a dis­mal R69 000.

One of the big­gest is­sues was that EP Rugby con­tin­ued to con­tract play­ers at ex­or­bi­tant salaries when the be­lea­guered fran­chise was al­ready ef­fec­tively in­sol­vent.

Some of the for­mer play­ers were earn­ing be­tween R1-mil­lion and R1.85-mil­lion a year.

Prior to the liq­ui­da­tion, the 18 play­ers had in­sti­tuted ar­bi­tra­tion pro­ceed­ings against the com­pany, with an agree­ment made for EP Rugby to set­tle all out­stand­ing salaries and other fringe ben­e­fits, pay­ment of da­m­ages in re­spect of the un­ex­pired por­tions of their con­tracts, and pay­ment in re­spect of re­lo­ca­tion costs.

A set­tle­ment agree­ment was made an or­der of the court on Fe­bru­ary 9 2016.

How­ever, hooker Van Vu­uren claims EP still owes him about R1-mil­lion, while wing and for­mer cap­tain Cook is owed R3.6-mil­lion, util­ity back van Breda R3.1-mil­lion and cen­tre White­head R1.5-mil­lion.

The four play­ers re­ceived a com­bined R124 000 af­ter the liq­ui­da­tion. Wat­son – who is fac­ing his own string of le­gal woes, as well as Crous, Baatji­ies and Stu­ur­man, have al­ready in­di­cated that they will de­fend the court ac­tion, but have not yet filed re­spond­ing pa­pers.

A lawyer for the 18 play­ers, Craig Jes­sop, of BBV In­cor­po­rated, said the sum­mons had been is­sued against the four in their per­sonal ca­pac­i­ties.

“This in re­spect of da­m­ages the play­ers have suf­fered as a re­sult of the man­ner in which EPR was run by the de­fen­dants,” Jes­sop said.

In court pa­pers, the play­ers claim that for years prior to the liq­ui­da­tion, the busi­ness of EP Rugby was car­ried on reck­lessly or with the in­tent to de­fraud its cred­i­tors.

“Woe­fully in­ad­e­quate ac­count­ing books were kept. The com­pany, at all rel­e­vant times, to the knowl­edge of [Wat­son, Crouse, Baatjies and Stu­ur­man], traded un­der in­sol­vent cir­cum­stances,” the sum­mons reads.

“The con­tracts of em­ploy­ment with pro­fes­sional rugby play­ers were con­cluded at a time when the com­pany had no in­de­pen­dent fi­nan­cial abil­ity to pay salaries.”

Crous, now the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for the South­ern Kings, said he would de­fend the mat­ter and de­clined to com­ment.

At­tor­ney Danie Gouws, who is rep­re­sent­ing Wat­son, Baatjies and Stu­ur­man, would also only say that they would de­fend the mat­ter.

Wat­son has also been charged with 43 counts of fraud and money-laun­der­ing, with the trial sched­uled to be­gin in Au­gust.

This fol­lows a probe by the Hawks into al­leged cor­rup­tion sur­round­ing R208-mil­lion meant for Nel­son Man­dela Bay’s IPTS project, with some of the money al­legedly laun­dered through EP Rugby.

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