The criminal trial of alleged Ponzi scheme masterminds Yunus Moolla and his wife Fathima Carawan finally got under way yesterday when both pleaded not guilty to more than 11 000 charges – including fraud and money-laundering – involving more than R1bn they allegedly fleeced from investors.

They were arrested almost two years ago after the Reserve Bank shut down their company, Carmol Distributors, which between 2011 and 2014 purported to trade in petroleum products.

A TimesLIVE report says more than 100 witnesses – some of whom lost their life savings in the scam – are expected to testify during the course of the trial, which began before Durban Commercial Crime Court Magistrate Garth Davis.

The accused did not disclose a basis for their defence and have not made any admissions. The matter has been set down for this week and will then be postponed, with estimates that it could take as many as 70 court days to complete the trial. The accused are on bail of R100 000 each.

Essentially they are charged with ‘conducting the business of bank’ by unlawfully taking deposits from members of the public – many of them members of charismatic churches whose pastors encouraged them to take part in the ‘get rich quick’ scheme.

Moolla and Carawan have previously been accused by the Reserve Bank of blocking liquidators' attempts to pay back investors.

In an urgent High Court application, liquidator Michael Stewart alleged that the couple was using others to launch frivolous court applications to delay the process.

He claimed that investors were waiting and it would be best to place Carmol into business rescue.

As things stand, no investor has received any money – and things will be further delayed because SARS has lodged a preferent claim of R279.7m. While Stewart objected to this, the taxman has overruled the objection.

Full TimesLIVE report