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SA millionaire held in Mauritian murder case 'was 'controlling

11 January 2015 - 14:04 By Jan Bornman and Pericles Anetos

On the face of it they seemed like the perfect couple: she was the beautiful woman who seemed to cling to love. He was the millionaire businessman who could spoil her with an R80 000 bracelet.

During their time together, they lived between his Hyde Park, Johannesburg, mansion, his Umhlanga penthouse and another home in the exclusive Zimbali estate near Durban.

But beyond all of that are claims that Lee-Ann Palmarozza was caught up in a life with Peter Roberts that was much less of a fairy tale.

On the day after Christmas, 35-year-old Palmarozza reluctantly boarded a flight to Mauritius. She was torn, said her friends. She did not want to leave behind her seven-year-old daughter, Dante.

Four hours later she made her way to the five-star resort of Anahita on the island's east coast to join her on-off boyfriend. Roberts, 39, owns a villa in the uber-expensive estate.

Three days later, Palmarozza was dead, her body found floating in a swimming pool at the resort - and Roberts was in police custody.

Mauritian police have provisionally charged him in relation to her death .

Roberts has engaged one of the top law firms in Johannesburg. Yesterday, attorney Nicqui Galaktiou said being provisionally charged was a formality to allow Mauritian police to wrap up their investigation.

"The legal system in Mauritius differs from South Africa in that a person may be charged provisionally even though the investigation has not been concluded."

Galaktiou said they intended to bring a bail application as soon as possible.

In the meantime, a second post-mortem has been conducted on Palmarozza and her body was scheduled to be repatriated to South Africa last night for burial.

While Palmarozza's family declined to grant interviews this week, several friends said she had not wanted to go to Mauritius over the festive season.

But Roberts, her friends said, was supporting her financially and she was worried that if she did not go to Mauritius, he would refuse to help her meet her expenses come January.


Rocky Romance

The two met at a Bryanston gym about four years ago. It took a while for Palmarozza to go on a date with Roberts.

Since then they had broken up and made up several times, friends said.

A personal assistant, Palmarozza gave up her job and moved in with Roberts at his Hyde Park home. He had told her she did not need to work, said friends.

Some time into their relationship, she was over the moon when he arranged for her to move into another of his homes, in Zimbali.

Friends speculated this week that the move was for "convenience" because Roberts was thought to have begun a relationship with another woman in Johannesburg at about that time . Jackie Strydom, 36, who has been friends with Palmarozza for nearly 20 years, described the relationship as "toxic".

"They split up so many times over the years, but then he'd just try and win her back again," she said.

Strydom said Roberts was not a "very friendly guy" and appeared controlling.

"He lived a very secluded life with her, even to the point where he didn't want her to have any friends," Strydom said.

But when things were great, Roberts would spoil her. He gave her a TAG Heuer watch and a little car.

Strydom said her friend never wanted Roberts to feel she was with him for his money. "She just wasn't that kind of girl."

Private Person

It appears their romance was again going through a hard time towards the end of last year.

In early December, Palmarozza asked a friend for help in finding a job. "She said she needed to start working again - she wanted to stand on her own feet," said one friend.

Said another: "This was after he told her to get the f**k out of his house" in October.

Those who know Roberts said he had to be going "mad" knowing that details of his life were being splashed in the media back home. Described as a very private person, he does not appear to have a Facebook profile and, despite being wealthy, does not appear to move in the usual Johannesburg money circles.

Very little is known about him, but some former associates described him as a self-made man and a car enthusiast. He has two Ferraris and a Porsche.

Those who had visited his Hyde Park home said it was like "a palace".

The tennis court and the paintings on the walls all showed that Roberts had great taste, they said.

"He has those art works, Mandela hand prints," said one.

Roberts is said to be very quiet about his business affairs - "hush hush", said one former business partner and friend who had fallen out with Roberts over an unpaid loan.

The former friend said Roberts dealt in futures trading, among other business interests.

Company records reflect Roberts as a director of multiple companies.

Not That Type of Person

The friend said he was shocked when he heard about Roberts being arrested because "he was not that type of person".

He was a "generous guy", to such an extent that people could sometimes take advantage of him, the friend said.

The friend said Roberts was socially low-key. He never went to clubs and was not a heavy drinker : "He wasn't the kind of guy that was in nightclubs partying. He wasn't that type of person."

Repeated attempts to obtain information from police in Mauritius were unsuccessful.

Media reports in that country have given the cause of Palmarozza's death as asphyxiation.

Anahita is one of the more exclusive resorts on the east coast of Mauritius and has more than 300 homes, including villas costing from $1.3-million (about R15-million) to $2.9-million .

Roberts is currently being detained in a police cell and is scheduled to return to court this week.

bornmanj@sundaytimes.co.za, anetosp@sundaytimes.co.za