Kimberley - Four years after being charged, former Northern Cape ANC provincial chairman, John Block, and the CEO of Trifecta Investments, Christo Scholtz, were on Tuesday each sentenced to an effective 15 years in jail in the Northern Cape High Court.
They were charged with corruption and money laundering.
Block had no words, other than to indicate that the process “was not over yet”, went he left the courtroom.
They were found guilty of corruption and money laundering in October 2015, where government leases exceeding R100 million were facilitated with the Trifecta group of companies in Kimberley, Upington, Kuruman, Springbok and Douglas, in exchange for kickbacks.
The six Trifecta companies were issued with a R1.2 million fine, while Block’s defunct company, Chisane Investments (Pty) Ltd, was spared prosecution as it has since been declared commercially insolvent.
Block, who still maintains that he is innocent, has 30 days in which to surrender R2 million of his assets to the state and make a deposit into National Treasury’s account.
Scholtz will have R60 million of his assets confiscated, while the State Asset Forfeiture Unit had previously calculated an amount of R600 million.
The accused will also be liable to pay additional curators fees, plus interest on any outstanding amount that has not been paid by the due date.
Scholtz is a first time offender while Block has a previous theft conviction.
While supporters did fill the gallery, the court building was devoid of any supporters carrying placards or chanting for their former leader, as was the case during Block’s previous appearances.
ANC provincial secretary, Zamani Saul, preferred to sit with Scholtz’s family.
Northern Cape High Court Judge Mmathebe Phatsoane highlighted the seriousness of the offences and sent out a clear message that corruption would not be tolerated.
“Corruption is eating away at the fabric of society and is a scourge on our modern democracy.”
She pointed out that subjecting the accused to correctional supervision would amount to a “mockery of justice”.
“Scholtz downplayed his role in facilitating the leases that served as a direct capital injection for the Trifecta group of companies, which benefited from corrupt activities.”
She described the transactions as being “grossly unfair to the public”.
“An unethical and corrupt relationship existed where high ranking government officials, including the HOD for Social Development, Yolanda Botha, and a powerful politician (Block) received gratifications in large amounts.”
Botha passed away before the conclusion of the trial.
“Nothing presented by either Scholtz or Block showed that any compelling or substantial circumstances exist to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentences.”
According to Phatsoane “the only penalty that can be imposed on the multiple offences by the corporate accused, is a fine”.
She explained that Trifecta Investment Holdings (Pty) Ltd was the umbrella company of the Trifecta group of companies, where multiple payments were concluded between 2005 and 2015 by the Northern Cape government.
“The accused did not contest the rentals that were made to the state.”
The payments included rent for the Van Riebeeck building in Springbok, to the value of R16 million, R2 million for the Keur ‘* Geur building in Douglas, R50 million for the Du Toitspan building in Kimberley and R90 million for the Kimberlite Hotel building in Kimberley.
Another R34 million was paid to Trifecta for the lease of the Northern Cape Training Centre and R37 million by the South African Social Security Agency for the old Oranje Hotel in Upington.
She added that although Chisane Investments (Pty) Ltd, of which Block was the director, received a payment of R228 000 from the Shosholoza Trust, it was pointless to levy a fine against it.
“The company appears to be dormant and there are no assets.”
Both defence teams had prepared preliminary representations for applications for leave to appeal at the Supreme Court of Appeal.
The legal representative for Block, senior advocate Salie Joubert, indicated that his client had a reasonable prospect of success on appeal.
“We will argue that the judge erred with regards to the evidence of State witness Ebrahim Crouch as well as on the basis of the refusal of the application for special entry as it was made in good faith.”
Phatsoane reluctantly agreed to extend the bail of the accused until Wednesday to allow for their applications for leave to appeal to be presented.
Earlier sentencing procedures were disrupted because of an urgent application after Block reported Phatsoane to the Judicial Services Commission. He claims she bowed to pressure to convict him in the Trifecta trial.
According to Block’s legal representative, Advocate Salie Joubert SC, a judge, who is known to the defence, overheard a telephonic conversation between the presiding officer (Phatsoane) and Northern Cape High Court Judge President Frans Kgomo, indicating that she should “convict the bastards”.
Joubert stated that while he did not know the judge who had overheard the conversation, a number of lawyers and advocates in the legal fraternity knew the identity of this individual.
“My client met with his attorney, Dali Mjila, and senior advocate Moses Mphaga, from the Pretoria bar, on October 24 at the Protea Hotel in Kimberley, to discuss certain issues pertaining to litigation.
“Mjila conveyed that he had received information from a reliable source where this particular judge was in the presence of the Judge President (Kgomo) when Phatsoane advised him that she had no grounds to convict Block.”
He added that Kgomo was out of town when the conversation took place.
“If he admits that this conversation took place, the Judge President should be in a position to reveal who had listened in on the conversation. The nature of the application is not frivolous, neither is it an abuse of the legal process.”
Joubert added that the judge, who was privy to this private discussion, shared this information with an attorney, who in turn felt that it “needed to be followed up”.
“At a Black Lawyers Association meeting this year, the discussion was conveyed to Mjila in confidence.”
Joubert added that it was decided that this information should be disclosed to the Judicial Services Commission as the “life of his client was at stake”.
“While my client was considering an application for recusal, it is clear that Phatsoane had succumbed to pressure to convict the accused. Block has no reason to doubt the validity of this information.”
Joubert requested that sentencing be postponed for another four months to allow for the Judicial Services Commission to investigate the alleged bias of Phatsoane.
“The extent and nature of the complaint that was laid on December 5 against the presiding judge is that she should be found guilty of wilful and gross neglect of her judicial conduct.”
He added that his client’s constitutional rights had been breached and that he was not afforded a fair trial.
State advocate Peter Serunyne pointed out that the prosecution only became aware of the special entry application on Tuesday morning.
“The application to the Judicial Services Commission is separate from the criminal trial, which should be allowed to proceed. The evidence before court amounts to hearsay evidence, where the overheard allegations contained in the phone call moved from one person to the next.
“The only evidence before the court is an affidavit authored by the accused (Block). The defence is muddying the issue, where the focus is being shifted away from the criminal trial. While we are aware of the accused’s right to a fair trial, as well as the right to request a special entry if proceedings were irregular, it should be made in good faith.”
He indicated that the State considered Phatsoane to be a fair judge, where neither the State nor the defence had received any special preference during the trial.
Phatsoane denied the application for special entry proceedings that was lodged against her with the Judicial Services Commission.
“The complaint was lodged one day before sentencing proceedings were to take place.”
She pointed out that this was while the accused (Block) had been aware of the allegations that were raised by a “nameless judge”, who overheard her apparent conversation with Kgomo, in October already.
“The application is frivolous and an abuse of the justice system.”