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Cape Town - A former head of credit control at Ceres Fruit Juices (CFJ) in Paarl, in the Western Cape, was refused leave to appeal on Wednesday against a eight-year prison sentence for fraud.
Evan Simrie embezzled R1 827 483 from CFJ after being lured into a get-rich-quick scheme.
At his trial in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court, magistrate Sabrina Sonnenberg said greed had been his downfall.
Simrie started as a clerk in the company’s credit department, and due to his “unique intellectual talents” was soon promoted to departmental head.
This gave him access to CFJ’s electronic fast-track payment system, which he manipulated to channel huge amounts into private accounts.
Prosecutor Derek Vogel told the court Simrie was caught when the company decided to investigate after identifying a huge amount paid to a creditor.
In his application for leave to appeal the sentence, Simrie contended that it was too severe.
However, Sonnenberg said Simrie had qualified for the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years for fraud involving more than R500,000.
She had found substantial and compelling circumstances to justify a less severe sentence.
Another element of mercy had been her ruling that the two sentences imposed in the case run concurrently.
The result was that Simrie had to serve only the heavier of the two sentences, and not both, she said.
In sentences imposed in High Courts for fraud, judges, including appeal judges, had ruled that punishments handed down in the lower courts for white-collar crime were too light and had no deterrent element.
Light sentences imposed for serious breaches of trust, as in Simrie’s case, would lead to the mistaken belief that white-collar crime was “not that serious”, and would be an encouragement to would-be offenders, she said.
She had seriously considered allowing Simrie leave to appeal, if only for clarity about what constituted substantial and compelling circumstances.
However, the Supreme Court of Appeals had ruled that sentences could not be sent on appeal just for clarity.
She said she considered Simrie’s eight years reasonable and appropriate, and did not believe any other court would rule differently.