‘Fraud is a cancer that is crippling our country’: Supreme Court of Appeal upholds 20-year jail sentence for ‘remorseful’ R5 million fraudster

Business Insider SA

  • The Supreme Court of Appeal has upheld a 20-year prison sentence for Victor Kwenda, who stole less than R5 million from Merseta.
  • Kwenda's team argued he was a remorseful first offender, and wanted to pay back the money.
  • But fraud is crippling South Africa – and stealing from a Sector Education and Training Authority, and so indirectly from the jobseekers it serves, is a very grave offence, the SCA said.
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The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has upheld a 20-year prison sentence for a fraudster who was a first offender and stole R4.9 million in total – which he offered to pay back.

Victor Kwenda had pleaded guilty and had shown remorse, his representatives had told the SCA in seeking to have his sentence reduced.

But the court took a stern line – in a clear warning to others who may find themselves before the courts in future.

"The scourge of white collar crime, especially fraud, is currently the order of the day in our country," the court said in the first line of its judgment. "Fraud is a cancer that is crippling our country from the core and takes away from the poorest of the poor."

See also: You can now go to jail for faking a degree on your CV – or claiming a qualification you don't have on LinkedIn or Twitter

Factors that had been argued in mitigation of the sentence had been "general", the court said, and did provide compelling reasons to deviate from a discretionary minimum sentence that formed part of the lengthy sentence.

Kwenda had originally been sentenced to two different 15-year prison sentences for different counts of fraud. Under rules to consider the "cumulative effect of punishment" dished out by courts, those sentences were ordered to run concurrently, with the exception of five years on one count. The end result was that Kwenda would be due to spend 20 years in jail – and this was correct, the SCA said.

Kwenda was an administrator of the Sector Education and Training Authority for manufacturing, engineering and related service, known as Merseta, which paid R16,000 per month when he resigned in 2010. Working with a co-accused, who had a contact at First National Bank, he arranged that money intended for beneficiaries of the organisation was redirected to the wrong bank accounts. He was caught after leaving the organisation.

See also: The National Credit Regulator tried to ‘protect fraudsters’ from Sars and the big banks – but the appeals court isn't keen

Some of the amounts involved were relatively small in sentencing terms, but one transaction was worth R1.4 million, and three were for more than R500,000 – which triggers provisions dealing with serious crime. The instances of fraud totalled R4.9 million.

In a bid to stay out of jail, Kwenda offered a plan that would allow him to repay the money over time. That was rejected.

The stolen money severely affected "about 200 youth from disadvantaged backgrounds who were robbed of education and apprenticeship opportunities which would have enabled them to uplift themselves in society," the SCA said.

"Ultimately, these apprenticeships would have enabled them to attain jobs, which is a scarce commodity in our country."

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