‘Mr Crispa’ in dock again. This time, elderly neighbour says he beat him up
Juan Lerena's defence has a very different version of what happened between him and the 73-year-old
Less than three months after being successfully sued for R55m in the Cape Town High Court for diverting sales from his employer to his own company, businessman Juan Lerena found himself in a courtroom yet again – this time for allegedly assaulting his elderly neighbour.
Lerena faces a charge of assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, after he allegedly beat up his Woodmead neighbour, 73-year-old Roland du Trevou, in June 2017.
Giving evidence in the Randburg Magistrate’s Court, a visibly emotional Du Trevou testified that the alleged assault occurred at the entrance of the complex where they both lived.
On the day of the assault, Lerena allegedly drove too close to him when he was driving out of the complex. “I then stopped my vehicle and went out to find out what was wrong and before I could say anything he pulled me out of my car, grabbed me by my jacket and banged my head on the bonnet of his car,” Du Trevou claimed.
He alleged Lerena also punched him in the face, leaving him with a bleeding nose and a bruised face.
He lost consciousness for a few minutes after his head was knocked on the pavement “at least twice”.
When prosecutor Thys de Jager presented photos of Du Trevou that were taken after the alleged assault, the elderly man burst into tears. However, he declined an offer by magistrate Heidi Barnard to adjourn proceedings to allow him to compose himself.
“It’s okay, I’ll continue,” he said as he wiped away tears.
The photos were then handed to the court as part of evidence the state has against Lerena.
In the public gallery, his two sons, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren sat quietly and sometimes looked emotional as De Trevou took the court through the incident. A day before the assault there was a road rage incident that allegedly took place between Du Trevou and Lerena’s wife, Joanne Macris, the court heard.
“She was driving behind me and hooted at me at a stop street. I got out of my car to ask her what was the problem. She then drove off, hitting my hand with her mirror and I was bleeding.”
He said he then followed Macris to her workplace where he tried to confront her on what she had done to him. De Trevou admitted to having kicked Macris’s vehicle.
During cross-examination, defence counsel, advocate Deon Pool, highlighted inconsistencies in Du Trevou’s testimony.
He said what Du Trevou wrote in his police statement was completely different to the testimony he gave in court.
But Du Trevou explained there might have been a communication breakdown between him and the police officer who took down his statement. Du Trevou refuted Pool's claim that he was confrontational when getting out of his car. “It was a claustrophobic thing. He had parked his vehicle too close to mine,” Du Trevou said. Pool discussed the reason given to the court that Du Trevou got out of his car.
“In your statement you said you went to his car because you wanted to apologise for what happened the previous day.”
Pool told Du Trevou his version of what really happened was not true, and said his client denies all allegations against him. “Mr Lerena said he never assaulted you. He put you on his bonnet and told you to leave his wife alone. He then left you and you went around his car and tried to approach his wife, who was driving behind you.
“He tried to stop you to approach his wife and that is when you fell,” Pool said, adding that the injuries Du Trevou suffered were due to his aggressive and confrontational behaviour because he fell and hit the ground when he tried to stop him from talking to his wife.
Pool also said injuries Du Trevou said he suffered were not consistent with the medical records in the docket. The case has been postponed to January 22 for further evidence, which will include testimony by a doctor who examined Du Trevou. Lerena earned himself the nickname Mr Crispa because of his role in selling hundreds of millions of rand’s worth of Crispa Gold, one of SA’s top-selling cooking oils.
According to a judgment handed down in August, Lerena pocketed R9m in secret profits, which he has to repay.
But after finding that he had breached his employment contract, Judge Lee Bozalek also ordered him to repay the R33m, with interest, determining that this is what the company lost in sales.
It said Lerena abused his position by diverting sales opportunities to his companies, Fast Track Marketing and FDC Distributors, by buying Crispa Gold at a cut price and selling it to customers of his employer.