Seedy Grahamstown internet cafe was a front, court rules
The net has closed on an illegal gambling joint linked to wife killer Christopher Panayiotou, his father and two family friends, with the seedy den’s assets finally forfeited to the state.
The Grahamstown High Court judgment comes just days after Panayiotou, 31, was convicted of orchestrating the kidnapping and murder of his schoolteacher wife, Jayde, 29.
In the latest blow, Acting Judge Yolanda Renqe ordered that more than R13 000 in cash, 20 computers, a cash register and other equipment found on the premises of The Old Mill Gaming Centre in Dundas Street, Grahamstown, during an undercover police sting, be finally forfeited to the state.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) welcomed the judgment, saying that both the murder conviction and the civil win showed that crime did not pay.
Panayiotou’s attorney, Alwyn Griebenow, said that while he was aware of the civil judgment, he could not comment on it.
It was found that Ruskopoint Pty (Ltd), trading as the Old Mill – an internet cafe – had been used as a front for online gambling.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit made the application, claiming Panayiotou, his father Costa, former Port Elizabeth bank manager Phillip Vosloo and his son and IT expert, Donovan, had played a role in the operation from behind the scenes.
While Grahamstown resident Bulelani Gaqa, 34, was listed as sole director of the Old Mill, his supposed employee of more than a year, Mevelyn Williams, said she had never even heard of him.
Ruskopoint’s lawyer, Basil Vardakos, said the judgment was materially flawed and incorrect.
“I have received instructions to take the matter on appeal, notice of which will be served shortly on the other side.
“We are confident we will be successful on appeal,” Vardakos said.
Vosloo said while he had been involved in managing the site of the Old Mill, that had been a long time ago and before the illegal gambling was said to have taken place.
“I have nothing further to say on the matter,” he said.
A trap, set up in February last year, saw an undercover detective participate in the gambling.
Williams, a cashier, was taken in for questioning later and quickly spilt the beans, claiming the establishment was run by Vosloo.
Williams said thousands of rands had been transported off the premises as often as once a week.
Then, about a month before the police swooped on the grungy building, Donovan, who wiped Panayiotou’s phone after Jayde’s murder, allegedly adapted the computers to incorporate the services of an internet cafe.
Williams claimed in an affidavit that Donovan had travelled to Grahamstown every Sunday to collect the proceeds, ranging from R10 000 to R30 000 a week. He had later started collecting the cash on a biweekly basis, and thereafter collection had been done sporadically.
About a month before the search warrant being executed by the police, the computers were adapted to provide internet facilities.
Williams suspected that Donovan was also monitoring the system from Port Elizabeth.
Costa had signed the lease agreement with the landlord, while Williams claimed she had been interviewed for the position by Panayiotou in early 2015.
Jayde was murdered in April that year.
Renqe said it was clear that the items seized during the raid were either proceeds of, or used in, the commission of an offence.
She said there was no evidence tendered to show that the seizure constituted a serious breach of privacy, or was carried out in an unreasonable and disorderly way.
It was common cause that the Old Mill did not have a licence.
“Illegal gambling is an offence in terms of the Eastern Cape Gambling Act,” she said.
“Therefore, it is an offence for which forfeiture in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act is potentially competent.”
“[These] proceedings are of a civil nature and the court has to make a finding on a balance of probabilities.”
NPA provincial spokesman Tsepo Ndwalaza said the arrest, asset forfeiture and freezing proceedings emanated from a coordinated, systematic and organised operation by law enforcement agencies.
“Those with interest in the preserved items were entitled to oppose the forfeiture application.”
Panayiotou and his co-accused, Sinethemba Nemembe and Zolani Sibeko, will be sentenced in the Port Elizabeth High Court on November 17.