Pot-plant obsession proves expensive for Cape Town man
A "trustafarian" has learnt a cold, hard legal lesson: that money does not grow on trees - or even dagga bushes.
Now his green fingers have cost him his luxury pad in Durbanville, Cape Town, after the high court brought him down a few notches this month.
According to prosecutors, Eugene Theron, 30, poured more than R1m from the family trust fund into an elaborate hydroponic marijuana cultivation set-up.
A police detail swooped on Theron in his home, which is in an upmarket gated complex, in the early hours of one morning in August 2015 after sniffing out that he was allegedly "selling drugs and growing dagga".
The police said the house had fluorescent and halogen lighting, a separate electrical distribution board fitted with timers to regulate power distribution, equipment to hoist drying baskets full of dagga and an industrial extractor fan.
Theron and another person were arrested for dealing in drugs but, according to Theron's lawyer Ben Mathewson, the charges were withdrawn.
Despite this, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) lodged an application in the high court in Cape Town to have Theron's home and the seized cash forfeited to the state. The AFU said the property had been instrumental in the commission of a crime and that the money was the proceeds of this crime.
In support of the application, Nicolaas van Zyl, a deputy director of public prosecutions, said: "The immovable property was ideally located in a safe and secured security complex, thereby ensuring limited and restricted access; further, the immovable property was specifically adapted to cultivate dagga."
But trustees of the ET 15 Familietrust, of which Theron and his siblings are beneficiaries, argued that the family trust had lent Theron R1.2m to purchase the home and that it has an interest in the property.
In an affidavit, Theron's sister, Jean-Mari Theron, said she was "totally innocent of any of the allegations against myself as trustee and beneficiary of the trust".
"The trustees respectfully request that, in the event that the court grants a forfeiture order in this matter, the interest of the trust in the immovable property to the value of the outstanding loan and interest thereon be excluded," she said.
Judge Ashley Binns-Ward ordered that the property and the cash that was seized be forfeited to the state.
But he instructed the curator to settle any proven claim by the family trust before depositing the proceeds of the sale of the house into the criminal asset recovery account.
Binns-Ward also slapped Theron with the legal bill.
"The uncontroverted evidence is that every room in the house apart from the main bedroom, and also the garage, was given over to, or contained evidence of, what appeared to be drug production activity," the judge said.
"The photographs taken by the police and put in evidence speak volumes. They give an impression of something approaching a mini-industrial operation having been conducted there."
Theron could not be reached for comment this week. But Mathewson claimed victory, saying the court had recognised that the family trust had a right to the bond and interest.
However, he declined to discuss the original criminal charges against Theron. He said: "I can't comment on that; it was withdrawn and that is the end of it for us."
Eric Ntabazalila, spokesman for the prosecution in the Western Cape, said the state intended reinstating the charges against Theron and the other person arrested.
"The charges against the accused and his girlfriend were earlier provisionally withdrawn, but we are now in the process of reinstating them," Ntabazalila said.
Constitutional law expert Professor Pierre de Vos said the Constitutional Court ruling in September that legalised the private use of dagga could not save Theron from prosecution for something he did in 2015.
De Vos said the Constitutional Court decision was not retrospective and stipulated that only dagga grown for personal use was covered, not dagga grown for sale to others.
"So if there is evidence that you are actually dealing, that would not be covered," said De Vos.
"You can make an argument that you shouldn't be prosecuted if you really were doing it for private consumption . but in terms of the law you are still liable if you did something before the judgment."..