Given half a chance, our courts take firm action against crime, and a recent Supreme Court of Appeal judgment is only one of many recent instances of victims seeing justice delivered in full force to the criminals who preyed on them.
A SETA employee who defrauded grant beneficiaries of R4.9m was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The fact that he was a first offender, his expressions of remorse and his plan to repay his victims cut no ice with the Court, which described white collar crime, particularly fraud, as “a cancer that is crippling our country from the core”.
Our law’s minimum sentencing provisions played a part in this outcome, and we examine how minimum sentences work, the wide range of serious offences they apply to, and how they are there to give heart to victims that justice will be served.
“The scourge of white collar crime, especially fraud, is currently the order of the day in our country. Fraud is a cancer that is crippling our country from the core and takes away from the poorest of the poor” (extract from judgment below)
It is tempting sometimes to think that the high levels of criminal activity plaguing us at every level of our society are here to stay and that it is pointless reporting crime when you fall victim to it.
But if we don’t all report crime when it happens, and if we don’t keep following up to ensure proper investigation and prosecution, we hamstring our courts. And that is self-defeating, because give our courts a chance to crack down hard on criminals and that is exactly what they do. A recent Supreme Court of Appeal decision is only one of many such examples –
The SETA employee who stole R4.9m
- The fraudster in question was employed for 2 years by a SETA (Sector Education and Training Authority). One of the SETA’s functions was to allocate grants to employers, education and training providers and employees, and one of the employee’s duties was to upload the banking details of grant beneficiaries onto the SETA’s payment system.
- Together with two accomplices (one of them a bank official) he diverted grants to a fraudulent bank account on 26 occasions, the amounts involved ranging from under R100,000 to almost R1.4m.
- His fraud was “fortuitously” uncovered only several months after he resigned from the SETA, and he pleaded guilty in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court to 26 counts of fraud totalling an amount of R4,898,158.21. He was sentenced to a total of 20 years imprisonment.
- Relevant here were the minimum sentencing provisions in the Criminal Law Amendment Act which provide that even first offenders must be sentenced to a minimum of 15 years’ imprisonment for any fraud involving more than R500,000 (R100,000 for persons acting together or R10,000 for law enforcement officers) unless “substantial and compelling circumstances exist which justify the imposition of a lesser sentence”.
- The High Court refused the fraudster leave to appeal against that sentence, and he approached the SCA.
- The Court was unimpressed with the fraudster’s claim to have shown remorse and with his offer to come up with a repayment plan. Although he was a first offender, the Court characterised fraud as “a cancer that is crippling our country from the core” (full quote above) and noted that in this case “those severely affected were about 200 youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who were robbed of education and apprenticeship opportunities which would have enabled them to uplift themselves in society. Ultimately, these apprenticeships would have enabled them to attain jobs, which is a scarce commodity in our country.”
- The end result – the fraudster must serve his 20 years.
Other “minimum sentence” crimes
A whole range of other serious offences are also subject to similar minimum sentencing requirements – murder, robbery, rape, corruption, exchange control offences, sex and drug trafficking and so on. The list is a long one, and victims of crime can take heart from it.