Get Cheeky! Jilted players sue Watson

EP stars file court papers targeting personal pockets of former execs

Former EP rugby boss, Cheeky Watson. File picture
Former EP rugby boss, Cheeky Watson. File picture
Image: Eugene Coetzee

The liquidated Eastern Province Rugby (Pty) Ltd has barely made a dent in its insurmountable debts, having managed to cough up only R423 000 of the almost R24-million owed to some of its former players.

Fed-up, 18 jilted professional rugby players have now targeted the personal pockets of former EP Rugby Union (EPRU) president Cheeky Watson, then chief executive officer Charl Crous and two company directors in fresh litigation before the Port Elizabeth High Court.

In the latest set of papers, players such as Michael van Vuuren, Tim Whitehead, Scott van Breda and Ronnie Cook have accused Watson, Crous and directors at the time, Shelley-Ann Baatjies and Vernon Stuurman, of being party to EP Rugby’s fraudulent, or at the very least, reckless acts.

Since the liquidation, EPRU, under the new leadership of president Andre Rademan, has recovered, reporting a R3-million profit at its annual meeting in February. The jilted players claim they are still owed at least R23.4-million, despite a court order dating back more than two years.

They say that for four years, Eastern Province Rugby was run recklessly, or with the intention to defraud those to who it owed millions of rands.

Therefore, they believe it is up to the those at the helm at the time to settle the outstanding debts to the players. The players will now ask the court for an order declaring Watson, Crous, Baatjies and Stuurman liable in provisions of the Companies Act.

Other members may be added at a later stage. EP Rugby was liquidated in May last year. It spiralled into millions of rands of debt, accumulating a loss of R28-million in 2012, and R33-million the following year. Its assets were meanwhile only valued at a dismal R69 000.

One of the biggest issues was that EP Rugby continued to contract players at exorbitant salaries when the beleaguered franchise was already effectively insolvent.

Some of the former players were earning between R1-million and R1.85-million a year.

Prior to the liquidation, the 18 players had instituted arbitration proceedings against the company, with an agreement made for EP Rugby to settle all outstanding salaries and other fringe benefits, payment of damages in respect of the unexpired portions of their contracts, and payment in respect of relocation costs.

A settlement agreement was made an order of the court on February 9 2016.

However, hooker Van Vuuren claims EP still owes him about R1-million, while wing and former captain Cook is owed R3.6-million, utility back van Breda R3.1-million and centre Whitehead R1.5-million.

The four players received a combined R124 000 after the liquidation. Watson – who is facing his own string of legal woes, as well as Crous, Baatjiies and Stuurman, have already indicated that they will defend the court action, but have not yet filed responding papers.

A lawyer for the 18 players, Craig Jessop, of BBV Incorporated, said the summons had been issued against the four in their personal capacities.

“This in respect of damages the players have suffered as a result of the manner in which EPR was run by the defendants,” Jessop said.

In court papers, the players claim that for years prior to the liquidation, the business of EP Rugby was carried on recklessly or with the intent to defraud its creditors.

“Woefully inadequate accounting books were kept. The company, at all relevant times, to the knowledge of [Watson, Crouse, Baatjies and Stuurman], traded under insolvent circumstances,” the summons reads.

“The contracts of employment with professional rugby players were concluded at a time when the company had no independent financial ability to pay salaries.”

Crous, now the chief operating officer for the Southern Kings, said he would defend the matter and declined to comment.

Attorney Danie Gouws, who is representing Watson, Baatjies and Stuurman, would also only say that they would defend the matter.

Watson has also been charged with 43 counts of fraud and money-laundering, with the trial scheduled to begin in August.

This follows a probe by the Hawks into alleged corruption surrounding R208-million meant for Nelson Mandela Bay’s IPTS project, with some of the money allegedly laundered through EP Rugby.