Those who engage in fraud, corruption and money laundering should read the high court in Pretoria's judgment delivered last week.
Judge Sulet Potterill meted out hefty sentences to a group of mostly academics who defrauded the South African Revenue Service of about R11million. They manipulated the tender process for training at Sars to ensure they got the tender. Three of the five accused will spend 15 years in jail.
In the past, the punishment for white-collar crime made the “game seem worth the candle”, as phrased by an earlier Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) judgment. But that is over. In certain cases white-collar criminals are dealt with more harshly than murder accused.
Judge Potterill said: “So-called white-collar crime, involving the abuse of officials or corporate offices for dishonest exploitation of the opportunities to profit in modern business, commercial and industrial practices is detrimental to the state, the consumer and the taxpayer.”
She said the penalties the legislature meted out reflected its intention to hand down stern sentences. Money laundering for instance, under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, attracted a fine of up to R1m or imprisonment of not more than 30 years. Racketeering offenders could face the same if convicted as well as life imprisonment. The law allows for fraudsters to go to jail for up to 15 years on each charge.
In dealing with a white-collar crime appeal, the SCA said that in the past justifications often advanced for inadequate penalties were the classification of the crimes as non-violent. It was thought that the perpetrators were not “truly criminals” or “prison material” because of their often respectable histories and backgrounds.
“This was so even if their dishonesty has caused substantial loss and was resorted to for no other reason than self-enrichment and greed. These are heresies The impression that crime of that kind is not regarded by the courts as serious is beyond the pale and will probably not be visited with rigorous punishment, will be fostered and more will be tempered to indulge in it.”
Judge Potterill said there was an outcry by society against the corruption in the state, the private sector and parastatals. The corruption and malfunctioning at Sars, which was often headline news, left it to establish an anti-corruption unit. The judge said she found that astonishing as Sars was the institution one paid the “kaizer what the kaizer is owed”.
The story of state capture also involves white-collar crime. But if Judge Potterill’s judgment and sentencing and the Zondo commission into state capture is anything to go by, the State is addressing these type of crimes.
The Zondo Commission over the past week heard evidence about claims of abuse of power by senior officials and former president Jacob Zuma’s involvement with the controversial Guptas.
The case of Oscar Pistorius, who murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was an eye-opener to all that no matter who you are or how much money you have, the gates of jail discriminate against no one.