'5 faked fiery death to claim R10m life cover'

POLICE are searching for a Mpumalanga woman whose death they say was staged to claim on her life cover.

Five people appeared in the Sabie magistrate's court yesterday in connection with a false death claim.

Martha Susana Nel, 49, a manager of a mortuary in Sabie, her husband police Inspector Whitey Nel, 39, Clint John Francom, 56, André Botes, 40, and Ronel du Toit, 37, were not asked to plead to charges ranging from fraud, perjury and contravention of the Inquest Act as well as the unlawful possession of firearms.

The Nels were granted R500 bail each while Francom, Botes and Du Toit were granted R1000 bail each pending their next court appearance on June 18.

The arrest of the five resulted from a road accident in which Francom's wife Petronella supposedly died after "losing control of her car that overturned into a gorge near the Long Tom Pass in Sabie on May 22 last year".

She was supposedly burnt beyond recognition after the vehicle caught fire. The body was taken to a government mortuary in Lydenburg.

Police claim the accident and Petronella's subsequent death was staged.

"Our investigation suggests that Petronella might still be alive somewhere," organised crime unit spokesperson Captain Leonard Hlathi said yesterday.

"Anyone who knows her whereabouts should contact their nearest police station or myself at 082-462-0804."

Hlathi said the Francoms and Boteses started a pyramid scheme, Positive Publishing, in which the Francoms were directors.

"They allegedly opened investment opportunities to potential investors who were promised that their money could multiply up to R1million within three months after an initial investment of only R200000," Hlathi said.

The three allegedly decided to fake Petronella's death so they could claim more than R10million from her insurance life cover.

They allegedly took the body of a black man from a mortuary, put it in the car and pushed it down the gorge before setting it on fire.

The body placed in the car had not been claimed for a long time and was due for a pauper's burial.

Police found illegal firearms and more than 400 rounds of ammunition during the arrest of the five at the weekend.