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R1.6m theft: man spared jail

Published Nov 16, 2023


Durban — After being behind bars for six months, a 35-year-old man, who pleaded guilty to stealing R1.6 million of State money intended for a business that was looted during the July 2021 unrest, walked out of the Pinetown Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday.

Bilal Zikhali, who has paid R100 000 back through a confiscation order granted by the court last Wednesday, was sentenced to a wholly suspended sentence on condition he repay the balance of the stolen money. Zikhali was employed as a site agent and was also the director of his own production company.

The complainant in the matter is a production company that was looted during the unrest. The business lost everything, and its equipment stolen was valued in excess of R2.8 million.

In a bid to revive the looted company, the complainant sought relief from the government by making an application at the Small Enterprise Finance Agency (Sefa).

Zikhali’s production company had been contracted as a supplier of broadcasting equipment by the complainant. Monies paid out by Sefa were deposited directly into the account of listed suppliers in the application, instead of the company itself.

The R1.6 million paid into the account of Zikhali’s company was transferred from his business into his personal account. Police investigations found that the money was also allegedly distributed to 19 other account holders by Zikhali. Zikhali was refused bail in June on the basis that he was a flight risk. This was because the police had difficulty tracing him, they had profiled him and found no information.

It was only after profiling Zikhali’s ex-wife that police managed to locate and contact him – he was in Johannesburg living at his friend’s place. Police lured him to Durban under the pretence that he would be helped to sort out the case before it went to court.

In mitigation of sentence, Zikhali’s defence attorney, NM Nkosi, asked that the accused – who had worked out a repayment schedule with the complainant – be handed a wholly suspended sentence.

“He has no pending cases, no previous convictions, and is a first-time offender. He is the breadwinner of his family. When the money was deposited his company was under severe strain and he decided to use the funds to pay outstanding debt, he understood that he was not entitled to do this, hence he pleaded guilty.”

Nkosi told the court that Zikhali had an employment offer and was therefore in a position to repay the balance of the R1.6 million minus the R100 000 already paid.

“He is willing and is in a position to compensate the balance by paying R25 877.86 per month from January 2024 until December 31, 2028. This is 60 equal instalments that will compensate the complainant in full.

“Should the accused be sentenced to direct imprisonment that will place him in a position where he can’t keep to the payment arrangements as it is necessary for him to generate income in order to pay.”

State prosecutor Rowen Souls said theft was a prevalent offence and the accused was put in a position of trust where the government trusted that the money would be used for the looted business, however, the accused chose to squander the money.

“The complainant has accepted the payment plan but the court should also look at handing down a sentence that will deter the accused and like-minded people from committing similar offences. The accused should be found unfit to possess a firearm because of his dishonest conduct.”

Magistrate M A Khumalo sentenced Zikhali to eight years wholly suspended on condition he is not convicted of theft or fraud.

“He has pleaded guilty and committed himself to pay back the money, he has been in custody for six months. The accused is facing a very serious crime which is prevalent in South Africa. Notwithstanding that the court is of the view that this does not call for the prescribed minimum sentence despite a strong persuasion to do so given the amount involved. The accused can still change; given a second chance to correct the wrong he did.”

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