The affordable education loan option
Pretoria - Two former South African Revenue Service (Sars) employees and two of their “accomplices” received good news when the Pretoria High Court, on appeal, overturned their 15-year jail sentences on 10 counts of VAT fraud.
The court confirmed the convictions of former employees Kgolamo Edmund Maloba and Maria du Plessis, as well as of travel agent Mercy Papo.
The conviction and sentence of a former Absa human resources officer, Majori Chidi, were set aside and her name was cleared.
The sentences of the other three were each reduced to a four-year jail term.
This is under the provisions of Article 276 (1) (i) of the Criminal Procedure Act. It means that they must serve at least one sixth of their sentences before they may be placed under correctional supervision - which includes house arrest.
All four of the accused had spent, almost to the day, five years behind bars.
Their reduced sentences mean they will be entitled to immediate release.
This would in particular come as a surprise for Papo, who did not appeal against her conviction or sentence.
The court ordered that the registrar of the court inform the head of the prison where she was being held, of the latest development.
Judges Tatu Makgoka and Natvarlal Ranchod said Papo also had to benefit from the reduced sentences.
In September 2008, the four were sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment on charges of defrauding the taxman of nearly R500 000.
The regional court found Maloba and Du Plessis guilty of reactivating 10 dormant close corporations, creating fictitious transactions and claiming refunds.
The refunds were paid into the bank account of Chidi. She and Maloba were lovers at the time.
The State alleged that the accused duped Sars into believing that the credit assessments in the names of various VAT vendors were true and correct and that they were entitled to the VAT refunds.
These business entities were dormant and about to be deregistered. However, the two former Sars employees changed the business particulars and the refunds were paid into fraudulent bank accounts.
The owners of these businesses told the regional court that their businesses were deregistered for VAT purposes. They denied any knowledge of VAT refunds being paid to them.
Chidi at the time suspected foul play and alerted the authorities that something was up.
She denied any involvement in the fraudulent transactions and said her boyfriend, Maloba, had asked to use her bank account to have money deposited, as he had a problem with his own account because he was blacklisted.
Chidi said she was ignorant regarding the source of the money, was naive and had trusted her boyfriend.
On appeal, the high court found that the lower court was too harsh on Chidi and that there was nothing implausible about her explanation that she had not known what was going on.
However, the court found that the other three were part of the fraudulent scheme.
Du Plessis’s explanation that a “password thief” used her password to hack into her system was rejected.
But the judges felt a 15-year sentence was too harsh as there was nothing to suggest any of the three were not good human material whose prospects for rehabilitation “looked good”.