*Millionaire’s memory loss leads to lost fortune
In August 2007, Eric Van Den Berg, awoke in a hospital bed in Pretoria, blearily rising from a coma after almost three months.
Confused, the disorientated South African remembered very little about who he was.
Having suffered a heart attack, Den Berg was just happy to be alive.
He had no idea that, across the border in Gaborone, he owned Petroleum Installation, a company worth millions.
It is a fortune the 60-year-old says was stolen from him in the ensuing years as he struggled to piece together his shattered memory.
With no close family members around, Den Berg was offered a job working for a drilling company.
With nowhere else to turn, he accepted the job and slowly began rebuilding his fragmented life.
As the years passed and faint memories flickered, Den Berg would tell his newly wedded wife, Ragel Montsho, that he used to be a wealthy man who owned a fleet of flashy cars.
It was a statement his wife dismissed as the wishful thinking of a broken man embarrassed by his economic status.
The borehole drilling Afrikaner, however, persisted with his story.
Then, in 2013, fate intervened and the memories came flooding back.
Midway through the year, Den Berg received a call from a man in Kalfontein. The caller claimed that he had performed a job and was given a 7-tonne Isuzu truck as payment.
“His problem was the truck was registered under my names and he needed to change ownership!” explained Den Berg in an exclusive interview with The Voice recently.
Speaking at his modest home in Rakops, where he lives with his wife and their two young kids, Den Berg explained that the call jolted his memory.
Thus began the long, hard, and as yet unsuccessful, search for his missing millions.
According to Den Berg he arrived in Botswana in 1989, setting up Petroleum Installation (PTY) Ltd three years later.
“The company was contracted to service all filling stations in the country. In the following years, I bought a fleet of at least 24 cars through WesBank, a division of FNB that finances vehicle and property,” he said, adding simply, “I was a rich man.”
Business was booming and Den Berg would occasionally go on holiday in Portugal.
He was living the dream until one fateful afternoon it all came crashing down.
Sheriffs came knocking to reclaim two of his cars, which Den Berg says he had not finished paying off but no longer wanted.
“Instead, they attached most of my assets including fully paid cars!” he claimed, adding the stress led to his heart attack.
Initially hospitalised in Gaborone, the camotose Den Berg was transferred to Pretoria, where he eventually awoke with no memory of his previous life of luxury.
“When I had a heart attack news quickly spread around Gaborone that I had died. When I was transferred people probably thought my body was being taken for burial!”
Den Berg says as he lay in a coma, his bank repossessed most of his cars whilst his employees and friends took whatever they could from his company.
“They all thought I was dead. The plot in Rasesa owned by Devet Drilling Company used to be mine. At the time it was worth P3.8 million. It was sold through auction for P217, 000 to settle a P1, 700 claim against my company! What happened to the balance from the auction?” he demands, adding as if in afterthought, “Why was my property auctioned while I was in a coma?”
Since regaining his memory, Den Berg has sought, and paid for, help from some of the country’s best legal brains.
“All the lawyers I engaged withdrew citing conflict of interest,” he said, listing the late former Ombudsman Lithebe Maine and Bernard Bolele as two such beacons of hope.
In a brief interview, former Mahalapye West Member of Parliament Bolele said he remembers meeting Den Berg ‘briefly’.
“We met once or twice in Mahalapye and I remember his matter was complicated. I couldn’t conclude the matter because I was conflicted,” he said, pausing briefly before asking, “I remember he also had memory issues. Is his memory back?”
Seven years after the Kalfontein call and Den Berg is convinced he has been defrauded of at least P17 million and claims his bank overcharged him by at least P1.7 million on car repayments.
“This fraud has to be investigated,” he pleaded.
In an interview with The Voice, Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) Director Dr Abraham Sethibe urged Den Berg to get in contact with his office.
“This is a police matter, but he should put his complaint in writing and explain what really happened. We’ll take it from there,” said Dr Sethibe.
Meanwhile, FNB Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Stephen Bogatsu admitted he met Den Berg and his financial consultant in 2015.
“We did a thorough investigation and we found nothing untoward. However if he’s still unhappy and has fresh evidence he’s free to bring it. We’ll give him audience,” Bogatsu said.