South African police have issued an arrest warrant and started extradition proceedings on a woman alleged to have fled to New Zealand after she "benefited" from a multi-million dollar fraud.
Authorities in South Africa are calling for any information on the whereabouts of Sonja Joubert, understanding she has fled to New Zealand.
The South African Government alleges Joubert is implicated in fraud and corruption case involving a former top racehorse owner, Adriaan Van Vuuren.
Van Vuuren has been accused of defrauding the Trudon company of R500 million ($52m), allegedly creating invoices for non-existent software and invoices paid to companies in which Joubert was a director.
Van Vuuren was found dead in a hotel room in Pretoria on March 30, local media reported.
"Hawks' Serious Commercial Crime Investigation has launched a manhunt for a woman who is implicated in a fraud and corruption case involving former top racehorse owner and former Trudon IT manager Adriaan Van Vuuren who defrauded Telkom subsidiary Trudon of R500 million," said the South African Government in a release dated March 17.
In a further statement to the Herald on Sunday this week, Captain Ndivhuwo Mulamu said South African police believed Joubert was implicated because her companies allegedly received payments - and their effort to track her down now involved Interpol.
"Sonja Joubert is wanted for a fraud case whereby she allegedly benefited [sic] from the monies which were deposited into both her companies, The Corporate Choice and Bites Bee Holding by Trudon subsidiary to Telkom between 2007 and 2016 for IT services required," Mulamu said by email.
"A warrant of arrest has been issued for her arrest and the extradition process [is] underway. Office of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) is working together with Interpol regarding this investigation."
The Herald on Sunday has tracked Joubert to Auckland.
She is married to Francois Joubert, a senior manager of Samaritan's Purse, a non-profit international relief Christian organisation that runs the Operations Christmas Child programme.
The Jouberts declined a request to meet with the Herald on Sunday.
Francois said in a text that he needed to talk to their lawyer first.
"I would love to meet with you and to clarify these allegations," he said. "It is an ongoing investigation, I need to make sure what I can share with you.
He clarified also: "The allegations are against my wife and not us both."
Joubert's New Zealand legal representative, barrister Chris Patterson, said "South African authorities have not contacted me" and his client Joubert "fervently denies any allegations of wrongdoing".
"Sonya Joubert was a director of Bites Bee Holdings CC. During her time as a director another person associated with Bite Bee Holdings CC rendered a number of invoices to Trudon for information technology services. Trudon paid and then subsequently disputed the validity of the invoices by way of a complaint to the South African authorities. All of which Sonya Joubert had no knowledge of until the matter was reported in the South African media. Sonya Joubert understands that the individual who raised the invoices which are the subject to his matter has recently passed away," Patterson said by email.
"Sonya Joubert fervently denies any allegations of wrongdoing on her part. She has been implicated in this matter only because of her association with the company, Bite Bee Holdings CC though being named as its director. At all relevant times she had absolutely no knowledge or reason to suspect that the individual who the South African authorities were investigating and has now deceased had committed any wrongdoing."
Patterson said his client was happy to co-operate with the investigation, but would not voluntarily return to South Africa to do so.
"Sonya Joubert is willing to fully co-operate with the South African authorities including but not limited to being interviewed either here in New Zealand in person or via video conference or telephone conference," he said. "However, due to her other commitments and personal circumstances she will not be voluntarily travelling halfway around the world to South Africa for any period of time as determined by the South African authorities. There is no extradition treaty between New Zealand and South Africa."
A spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade declined comment on the Joubert case, but said New Zealand's extradition legislation did not require a bilateral treaty in order to send or receive extradition requests to and from other countries.
Part 3 of the Extradition Act 1999 states extradition from New Zealand applies to "any Commonwealth country".
New Zealand Police would not say if they were involved in the hunt for Joubert or involved with the investigation.
"In general, Police are not able to respond to requests which seek to confirm whether a specific individual is under Police investigation," a police spokesman said.
A spokesman said the Ministry of Justice "cannot confirm or deny the existence of any individual extradition requests until a person has been arrested and brought before the District Court".
Marinda Botha, a friend of the Jouberts, said she was shocked at news of Sonja's alleged involvement with the fraud.
Botha, an office manager at the Doxa Deo Church, said she first met the couple in 2012 when Francois was running courses there.
"They are a really nice Christian couple, and people loved Francois," she said.
"We all knew Sonja had businesses in South Africa, but I am shocked and cannot imagine her doing fraud or anything like that."
Botha, also originally from South Africa, said she lost touch with the Jouberts about two years ago when the couple moved to Tauranga.
A South African Sunday newspaper Rapport reported that the Jouberts had until recently lived in a mansion near Auckland fitted with a movie theatre, gymnasium and spa.
But Botha said the Auckland house the couple had been living in was a rental property which was "nothing out of the ordinary".