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Durban - A well-connected businessman, who counts a tribute from Nelson Mandela among his achievements, has asked a court for a suspended sentence after pleading guilty to fraud and corruption charges.
Ishwarlall (Ishwar) Ramlutchman’s legal counsel, advocate Jimmy Howse, on Tuesday argued that his client should receive the same, five-year suspended sentence already handed down to an industry board official who had admitted to authenticating fictitious documents for Ramlutchman’s company.
Howse told the Durban Commercial Crime Court that Ramlutchman, a prominent Richards Bay businessman, could be a vital witness to the State against three others allegedly involved in the same crime.
Former construction industry development board assessor Minesh Pema was given a five-year suspended sentence after he reached a plea agreement with the State.
In May, he admitted to giving Ramlutchman’s company, AC Industrial Sales and Service, a higher grading so that it could qualify for lucrative government tenders.
“As far as blameworthy conduct is concerned, Minesh Pema is just as responsible as my client, if not more. When he issued the false gradings, he knew it was for the purpose of tendering. He facilitated the grading and was there when (Ramlutchman) did the tender,” Howse argued.
Ramlutchman pleaded guilty last week and arguments for sentencing were to have been heard on Tuesday. However, the case was postponed until November 21 for the probation officer’s report.
Shortly after Ramlutchman pleaded, the Assets Forfeiture Unit, acting on a restraint and confiscation order from the Pietermaritzburg High Court, seized his assets, including properties and about 26 luxury cars.
Yesterday, Howse said Ramlutchman was shocked and unaware of the high court proceedings, especially as the head of the Asset Forfeiture Unit was present at his client’s Commercial Crime Court appearance last week.
“We had an agreement with the State. There was no need for the restraint and confiscation order. My client’s life is now in the hands of the curator, who has already been to his house and his business,” Howse said.
On the AC Industrial website, Ramlutchman’s humanitarian achievements are listed.
He received a tribute from former president Nelson Mandela on the company’s 10th anniversary. He received humanitarian awards from former KwaZulu-Natal premier, Sibusiso Ndebele; Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi; the uMhlatuze Municipality; uThungulu District Municipality, as well as the uMkhayakude District Municipality.
In 2009, he was sworn in as a member of the Zulu royal household.
In honour of Swami Sivananda and the late Swami Sahajananda, Ramlutchman installed eight Sivananda Peace Pillars across South Africa. These 3.5m high, 4-ton granite pillars are inscribed with prayers from the world’s major religions.
The court heard on Tuesday that Ramlutchman’s construction company had 250 employees and was busy with a major project.
Howse said that while Ramlutchman had business-related freehold movable assets such as trucks and excavators, he had two fixed properties he did not live in, but had “significant bonds on them”.
“There’s not a lot of equity. Essentially all his money is tied up in his business, which is now under the control of a curator, hence the urgency to finalise the (confiscation) matter,” Howse said.
He asked magistrate Nalini Govender to hear arguments for sentencing and the confiscation process on the same day, and to also persuade the Asset Forfeiture Unit to be present on November 21.
Govender said she was prepared to hear both issues, one after the other on the same day.
On the issue of sentencing, Howse referred to Pema and handed in Pema’s guilty plea as evidence and argued that Ramlutchman should get the same sentence, instead of a harsher one, as the State had set a benchmark with Pema.