The people who have been found guilty of defrauding the Post Office appeared at the Palmridge High court in Ekurhuleni for sentencing last week. Onasis Maxam, far left, claimed to be Tokyo Sexwales political adviser. Maxam was the mastermind behind the syndicate. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Johannesburg - A conman who tried to evade jail time by claiming to be a champion of the poor and using Tokyo Sexwale’s name to get leniency will spend the next 23 years behind bars.

Convicted of masterminding fraud and other offences totalling R2 million at SA post offices, Onasis Maxam was on Friday sentenced along with six other members of a syndicate that defrauded post office branches around Gauteng in 2008.

The man, 36, had argued that his direct incarceration would hinder the work he does in his community, which involved helping the poor and contributing to making South Africa a better country. He argued further that he was in the process of acquiring coal mining rights from Mozambique and that he worked as Sexwale’s political adviser.

But a day after Sexwale denounced him, Johannesburg High Court Judge George Maluleke found that the man previously employed as a Post Office branch manager failed to provide proof of mining rights he hoped to use in improving the lives of the poor.

Judge Maluleke also found that Maxam’s claims that he had a life-threatening kidney problem did not hold as he was not even on a register for organ recipients.

“He has been convicted on serious charges,” said the judge before handing down a 147-year sentence, which was narrowed down to an effective 23 years as sentences will run concurrently.

While other accused wore worried expressions, with two of the three women weeping and wiping way tears, Maxam stared impassively at the judge.

He later hugged his wife and bade goodbye to other relatives.

Five of his co-accused got off lightly, but Bongani Nkosi also got a hefty sentence, with Judge Maluleke saying there were “no substantial and compelling circumstances to impose a lesser sentence” as Nkosi had previous offences.

He then slapped Nkosi with an effective 20-year sentence. Unlike Maxam, the judge made a ruling that Nkosi could be considered for parole after serving 12 years.

Lesiba Marakalala will serve an effective eight years while Malesela Ledwaba, Funeka Ndlela, Jabulile Molotsane and Maphuti Pitjeng got an effective five years each.

This left the investigation team puzzled, as this means those who got off with five years could be released on parole after serving only 10 months.

“I’m shocked. The conviction shows justice has been done but the sentences are shocking,” said Merwe van Rensburg, national manager of forensic investigations at the Post Office.

When he testified in aggravation of sentence, he asked for lengthy sentences, saying syndicates like that led by Maxam cost taxpayers millions of rand, with Post Bank suffering 1 942 fraudulent transactions amounting to R55m over the past five years.

In the case of Maxam’s syndicate, the gang cloned people’s IDs and used them to open bogus savings accounts at various branches in Ekurhuleni. They would then credit these accounts with money and withdraw the money the same day.

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The Star