Tollgate player cleared of fraud
THE state has withdrawn all charges against former Tollgate executive Lawrie Mackintosh, who was implicated with former chairman Julian Askin and director Mervyn Key in fraud charges following Tollgate's liquidation in 1992.
Mackintosh, who is back in South Africa for the first time since leaving just before Tollgate's liquidation, says the Attorney General's office decided to withdraw all charges based on his evidence led over a 10-day period during Key's trial late last year. Key was found not guilty of all charges of fraud and theft involving R28.6-million relating to Tollgate. The charges against Mackintosh have never been specified.
"The case was against Mervyn but the evidence related to both of us. Effectively, we were both being tried," says Mackintosh. "It has continually been said that there was a conspiracy between the three executive directors, but in Key's trial the evidence was in our favour."
Mackintosh, a British citizen, had announced prior to the liquidation that he intended to go back to the UK. Over the past five years he has refused to become involved in the Tollgate/ Absa saga and declined to speak to the press.
Although two directors have been acquitted, many questions relating to Tollgate, the reasons for its demise and the involvement of Absa, a major creditor, remain unanswered.
Mackintosh admits the past five years have been "a torrid time".
"I was labelled a 'fugitive from justice'. The reality is that I was exiled because of injustice. When the complex commercial transactions were scrutinised by a competent court, the result was inevitable," he says.
"You can imagine how difficult it is to do anything with fraud charges against you. In addition, I had been in South Africa for 20 years, so all my contacts were here."
One good thing, he says, is that "everything we have ever done in our lives and every bank account has been scrutinised, and no impropriety found".
Mackintosh admits Tollgate, which was liquidated with debts of R400-million, had some operational and financial problems. But he adds: "While some speak freely about the collapse of Tollgate, it is significant that all the Tollgate subsidiaries which were sold off by the liquidators are today thriving businesses."
He accepts that there was no vindictiveness on the part of the state, which acted on the belief that there was prima facie evidence of fraud.
However, he is angry that it took five years to clear his name, and about the fact that warrants were issued first and the investigation only afterwards. He says the AG's office could surely have questioned the directors or asked them to explain certain things.
Commenting on his departure from SA, he says it was always his intention to leave. Tollgate grew rapidly over the years, and he and Key were not corporate men. They left the group at one stage, but were asked to come back and help it through its problems.
Mackintosh will remain in the UK, but plans regular visits to SA. He wants to develop a consultancy business directing foreign investment into SA.