Travelgate: 14 plead guilty

Fourteen current and former African National Congress (ANC) MPs were convicted and fined on Monday after pleading guilty to theft and fraud charges stemming from abuse of parliamentary travel vouchers.

The sentencing, carried out in the Cape High Court in terms of plea-bargain agreements with the Scorpions, came only a day ahead of their next scheduled court appearance in the case.

And more plea agreements are in the offing, according to Scorpions prosecutor Jannie van Vuuren.

Before Monday’s plea bargains, a total of 23 current and former MPs, including one from the Democratic Alliance, had been due in court on Tuesday, along with five travel agency employees and bosses.

The 14, who include the general secretary of the ANC Women’s League, Bathabile Dlamini, were sentenced by Cape Judge President John Hlophe to fines ranging from R25 000 to R120 000, with alternatives of three to five years’ jail.

All were given additional suspended five-year jail terms.

The six who pleaded guilty to theft were Randy Pieterse, Ndeleleni Duma, Bruce Kannemeyer, Alice Sigcawu, Lewele Modisenyane and Tsietsi Louw.

They admitted to unlawfully receiving benefits worth amounts ranging from R45 000 in Modisenyane’s case, to R120 000 for Sigcawu, and were fined from R25 000 to R60 000.

Those who pleaded guilty to fraud—which also involved fraudulent mileage claims—were Dlamini, Garth Mngomezulu, Patrick Maloyi, Bangalizwe Solo, Beauty Dlulane, Sophia Maine, Robert Nogumla and Barbara Thompson.

There the amounts involved ranged from R150 000 for Maloyi to R289 000 for Dlulane, and the fines from R90 000 to R120 000.

Most MPs will be paying the fines in instalments.
In Dlulane’s case, she will make the final payment in January 2010.

Dlamini, who is no longer in Parliament, pleaded guilty to fraud involving an amount of R254 000.

According to the charge sheet, she knew that in terms of parliamentary rules the vouchers could be used only for air travel.

However, her vouchers were used to cover the costs of hotel accommodation, car rentals and other benefits as well.

“The travel agents and their consultants [through whom she made the bookings] recovered such costs from Parliament under the disguise of valid claims for air tickets to achieve this.”

Air tickets were also booked, issued and then cancelled on the same day, but a copy was made prior to the actual voiding of the ticket.

The agent then claimed this ticket copy from Parliament, together with a voucher, as if it was a valid flight.

Pieterse, who is still an MP, told the South African Press Association after the hearing that he was relieved.

“It is time to rebuild my life,” he said. “Whatever’s gone wrong is gone wrong, but I’m glad I’ve been given an opportunity to rebuild my life with the help of so many people: Parliament, the ANC, province and national, obviously, and my family.”

He said the matter had been going on for “too long”.

“But I’m back. I won’t change: I’ll be the same Randy. And with the help of all my friends and colleagues and comrades ... I’ll be back better than before.”

Prosecutor Van Vuuren told Hlophe he was engaged in negotiations on other plea agreements.

He said after the hearing that four agreements were in the offing, and “possibly others as well”.

He would be seeking a postponement on Tuesday, as some accused had appointed new lawyers, and the whole case would have to be replanned in view of the plea bargains.

Advocate Seth Nthai, who is appearing for all the ANC accused, said two more of his clients would go before the court with plea agreements on Tuesday, which left only four ANC members facing trial.

National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi said the NPA was pleased with the sentences and believed both that they were commensurate with the crimes that were committed, and that they would serve as a deterrent to potential offenders.

“The NPA is pleased with the finalisation of these cases as it now leaves the prosecuting team with enough time and resources to concentrate on finalising the other remaining cases,” he said.

Several of the 14 who were sentenced on Monday still face civil claims from the liquidators of Bathong Travel Agency, one of the firms implicated in the voucher scam.—Sapa

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