10/09/2015. Dr Stoyan Stoychev who was fined for a charge of fraud and evading e-tolls sitting with members of his legal team at the Pretoria Magistrate Court. Picture: Bongani Shilubane

Pretoria - CSIR researcher and e-toll evader Dr Stoyan Stoychev was found guilty in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Thursday of fraud, and in the process, became the first motorist to be convicted for evading the user-pay system.

The 36-year-old pleaded guilty to 987 charges – one count for every time he drove under an e-toll gantry – and to one count of fraud for using cloned number plates in his attempt to evade e-tolls.

Stoychev was arrested last October 2 on the N1 in Centurion. At the time of the arrest, the duplicated number plates were found zip-tied over his original number plates.

The biochemist used the number plates from March 2012 until his arrest. He altered his number plates by changing the letter “C” to an “O” and the numbers 06 to 60.

In the same month, he used his vehicle without number plates on the back. He later used cloned number plates which belonged to a BN Bunting, another motorist who had an e-toll account.

State prosecutor advocate David Broughton said the alarm was raised when Stoychev and Bunting passed gantries in different parts of the province almost simultaneously.

Stoychev entered into a plea-bargain with the State, which saw him being fined R20 000 with an alternative of six months in prison for admitting guilt for the fraud charge.

In addition he was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service at an SPCA. This sentence was suspended for five years.

For evading e-tolls, Stoychev was fined R20 000, or an alternative six months’ imprisonment.

This sentence was wholly suspended on condition that he paid the debt he incurred between March 2014 and October 2014, which amounted to R14 873, including the e-toll costs he racked up for Bunting as well.

South African National Roads Agency Limited spokesman Vusi Mona said this conviction was a breakthrough, and would hopefully send a message to other evaders.

Mona said Stoychev’s issue was not isolated as there were other motorists tampering with registration plates and passing gantries.

NOT AN E-TOLL ISSUE, SAYS OUTA

Wayne Duvenhage of the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance pointed out, however, that the issue was not one of e-toll evasion but of fraud, since Stoychev had committed an unlawful act by using false number plates on his vehicle in an attempt to escape the consequences of his wrongful behaviour.

He was therefore in a somewhat vulnerable and weak bargaining position, which saw him capitulate on his ‘outstanding’ e-toll bills situation.

”This illustrates what Outa has been saying all along,” said Duvenhage. “Don’t break the law by using cloned or false number-plates. Doing so will give Sanral an opening to effectively extort money out of you to pay off what we maintain is an odious debt, overlaid on a fundamentally unlawful decision made by minister of Transport in 2008 to declare the Gauteng Freeway as a tolled road.”

Duvanhage maintained that in the 21 months since the inception of e-tolling, no summons had been initiated to address the non-payment of toll by about 1.6 million motorists.

“Outa’s open invitation to Sanral and the Government stands,” he added, “to prosecute our leadership, because our vehicles are legally licensed to use public roads, and we do not try to escape the just consequences of unlawful actions.

"Our position is that the e-toll decision on the Gauteng Freeways remains an unlawful matter and that the burden of proof to show that it was lawful rests with Sanral. The fact that they have not done so, despite an open invitation from many road users to try their luck by prosecuting them, speaks volumes.”

Pretoria News

Follow IOL Motoring on Twitter