BY PIJ REPORTER
In a surprising turn of events, Willie Steenkamp, a notorious South African fugitive who had successfully evaded law enforcement for several years, was apprehended in Malawi. Steenkamp was well-known for orchestrating an elaborate Ponzi scheme that had defrauded countless individuals. His audacious attempt to invest a staggering K22 billion (approximately $20 million) in Malawian banks drew the attention of the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA), ultimately leading to his arrest.
The investigative efforts of the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) uncovered a trail of victims in various countries, including Venezuela, Botswana, and Tanzania, all of whom were linked to Steenkamp’s illicit activities.
South African Fugitive Unmasked in Malawi
Willem Steenkamp, a notorious South African fugitive who had swindled numerous victims in an elaborate Ponzi scheme, was finally apprehended when Malawian law enforcement agencies took notice of his audacious attempt to invest $20 million (approximately K22 billion) in Malawian banks, which drew the attention of the Financial Intelligence Authority (FIA).
Investigations conducted by the Platform for Investigative Journalism (PIJ) have revealed that Steenkamp, who is among the ten most wanted South Africans, has left a trail of victims in several countries, extending as far as Venezuela.
Steenkamp was using the alias Dr William Bilderberg and possessed a Malawian passport with the number MWA097282 at the time of his arrest. PIJ was unable to ascertain how Steenkamp, who was trading as Bilderberg Limited, obtained a Malawian passport, as the Immigration Department had not responded to our query at the time of publishing this report.
National Police spokesman Peter Kalaya informed PIJ that, due to a joint operation conducted by the Fiscal Police and FIA, the authorities arrested William Bilderberg and Edward Phambala. Both individuals now face forgery, uttering false documents, and money laundering charges.
Detectives further discovered that he had fake travel documents and IDs suspected to have been illegally obtained. He is also on Interpol’s red list for fraud charges he is suspected of committing in Venezuela and South Africa.
Using the alias Steenkamp, Bilderberg appeared at the Blantyre Chief Resident Magistrate Court on Wednesday, where his lawyers applied for bail. Chief Resident Magistrate Chisomo Msokera has set Monday as the date to rule on the bail application.
“We are already in touch with Interpol on this case and others he is suspected to have committed in other countries. Our detectives are still on the case, and we believe more suspects connected to the case will be arrested,” Kalaya added.
While confirming the case, FIA spokeswoman Grace Thipa said they “cannot comment further as our investigations and analysis are ongoing.”
In a brief interview, Steenkamp’s lawyer, Felix Tambulasi, confirmed that his client has been arrested and will appear for a bail hearing on Monday.
How The Case Unravelled
On September 2, Bilderberg Limited and Dr William Bilderberg, through their lawyer Tambulasi, filed for an injunction with the High Court in Blantyre, seeking an order to access $20 million, which Ecobank Malawi had frozen.
In the affidavit, Bilderberg is described as a seasoned banker specialising in banking and operating in various countries worldwide. The claimant, managing director of Bilderberg, was welcomed to the country by the Malawi government in October 2022 through the Office of the President and Cabinet to invest in Malawi. Bilderberg Limited was incorporated in Malawi on October 12, 2022.
The affidavit explains that, on August 19, Bilderberg wired $20 million from Forex Plus Australia to his account held at Ecobank Malawi. However, on August 31, as he attempted to make a transfer from his account, he was notified that his account had been frozen.
Although Justice Kenan Manda granted Bilderberg their prayer for an injunction on September 8, the FIA ordered Ecobank to ignore the court order, as they had evidence suggesting that Bilderberg was the wanted South African fugitive Steenkamp.
Bilderberg initiated contempt of court proceedings against Ecobank Malawi on October 11 “for blatantly and contemptuously disobeying an order of mandatory injunction granted by this court ordering the defendant to unfreeze the claimant’s account.”
The FIA and the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB) did not respond to our request for answers. Still, a source close to the investigations told PIJ that an online search of William Bilderberg or Bilderberg Limited yielded zero results.
“This, in itself, was suspicious because it is absurd and strange for someone that wealthy not to have an online presence, let alone any social media presence. This alarm led us to investigate the individual further and eventually to the South African trail,” the source explained.
Steenkamp was issued the Malawian passport on September 26 last year, indicating that he might have arrived in the country around that time.
Steenkamp’s Wurban Scam
Mike Bolhuis, a South African private investigator who had been tracking Steenkamp for several years, revealed that Steenkamp, 50, was a financial consultant and the head of an international investment company that promised investors massive returns.
“We have been in contact with the Malawian authorities since they read our project on the case. He has been doing this all his life and will not stop. He is a racketeer—he is a thief and a fraudster,” Bolhuis told PIJ.
In South Africa, Steenkamp is renowned for the Wurban-scam, where they disappeared with the investments made alongside his partner Jacobus Johannes Christoffel Du Toit, 51. The pair ran Wurban Bank Group and Wurban Sovereign Trust, which were a front for the Ponzi scheme.
Steenkamp and Du Toit are listed as the CEO and managing director of London-based Wurban Agri Limited.
A Ponzi scheme is a fraudulent investing scam that generates returns for earlier investors with money taken from later investors, similar to a pyramid scheme. Both schemes eventually bottom out when the influx of new investors dries up and there isn’t enough money to go around.
Bolhuis explained that after their scam began to unravel, the pair went on the run, with reports of sightings in various places worldwide before their arrest in Malawi.
“Actually, Steenkamp used to be our client before things went wrong in his life when he promised to repay his victims. But later, we realised that he has been playing us and the Hawks because what he does is he pays a bit here and there and then moves on to the next scam. We are sure that he uses a lot of aliases and that he has defrauded many more people around the world.”
Bolhuis explained that he had been contacted by a person named Bilderberg, who claimed to have information regarding Steenkamp.
“He told me that Steenkamp was doing work in England, but I think it was Steenkamp himself who was trying to lead us away from his whereabouts. But generally, I want to complement the Malawi law enforcers as they have been thorough, effective, and professional,” he said.