Billionaire Wiese Refunded Over Unauthorized Rhino Contracts

Sep 02, 2014 10:49 am ET

(Updates with buyer declining to comment in eighth paragraph.)

Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- A company associated with billionaire Christoffel Wiese is among those that were refunded 14 million rand ($1.3 million) in deposits after a contract to buy rhinos from South African National Parks was canceled, a parks official said.

Professional hunter Jacques Hartzenberg had a deposit of 8 million rand refunded after the planned sale was found to be invalid, GC Dry, a parks board member, said in a phone interview yesterday. “Christo Wiese has an association with Hartzenberg,” he said. “It’s the same company.”

South Africa, home to most of the world’s rhinos, plans to relocate some of the animals from Kruger National Park to undisclosed sites to protect them from poachers, Environment Minister Edna Molewa said last month. This year 638 rhinos have been poached in the country, compared with a record 1,004 in all of last year.

Wiese is the chairman and majority shareholder of Pepkor, an investment company operating retail stores in Australia, Europe and Africa. Hartzenberg is the owner of Chapungu Safaris Africa, which includes the Kalahari Oryx Game Reserve in the Northern Cape, according to a company website. He didn’t return a phone call or e-mail seeking comment. Johan Maritz, manager at Kalahari Oryx, declined to comment. Sandra Jooste, a spokeswoman for Wiese, said Wiese is currently out of the country and declined to comment further.

Wiese has a net worth of $4.7 billion and is ranked as South Africa’s fourth-richest man, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire’s Index.

‘Unauthorized Commitment’

The sales were “transactions which were based on the unauthorized commitment by a member of the SANParks Executive which exceeded the board’s delegated authority,” Dry said in an Aug. 28 statement. “This member of the SANParks Executive has subsequently been suspended, pending disciplinary action, and an independent forensic audit has been commissioned into this matter.”

Wiaan van der Linde, a hunter and safari company owner, had a 6 million rand deposit refunded, Dry said. “Those contracts are null and void, given they were signed without the approval of the board.”

The transaction with Wiese and van der Linde involved 240 rhinos, with van der Linde’s contract alone worth 40 million rand, the Sunday Times reported, citing van der Linde. He declined to comment in an e-mailed response to questions.

Sales of the rhinos may occur at a later date when a proper approval process is put in place, Dry said.

“Two of the buyers are reputable people and we might do business with them in the future as the process unfolds in a valid way and in a sound transparent way,” he said. “That will be coming into play again.”