/ 15 January 2007

Unrepentant Yengeni walks free

Former African National Congress chief whip and fraud convict Tony Yengeni walked out of Malmesbury prison on Monday, saying his imprisonment had been a mistake in the first place.

”It is a great day for me and my family and for the movement in that I’m now walking out of the gate of this prison, a place that I was not supposed to be in the first place,” Yengeni said.

”But we’ll get to that at a later stage.”

Yengeni said he would need time to respond to everything that had been said about him.

”Today is not the right time; neither is it the right place.”

He said he would make a ”comprehensive statement” later that would cover all the issues.

Yengeni was set free having served just more than four months of his original four-year sentence.

It was expected he would proceed to his father’s house in Gugulethu, Cape Town, for a traditional cleansing ceremony.

Yengeni was convicted in 2003 of defrauding Parliament by failing to disclose a 47% discount on a luxury 4X4 Mercedes-Benz.

He failed to win an appeal against his four-year sentence and was sent to the Pollsmoor prison in August last year.

‘The ANC has set an appalling example’

Democratic Alliance correctional services spokesperson James Selfe told Business Day that the public could only be left bemused ”by what has seemingly been one of the lightest punishments received by a convicted fraudster”.

”The ANC has set an appalling example throughout this saga, which can only serve to deal a severe blow to the fight against corruption,” he told the paper.

Responding to Selfe’s comments, ANC provincial secretary Mcebisi Skwatsha told the Mail & Guardian Online on Monday: ”I don’t know what the DA wants. Yengeni has been released according to all rules and regulations.”

When asked how he felt about Yengeni’s release, Skwatsha said: ”How can you not be happy? One of our own has been released. Now he can get on with his life and be able to be with his wife and kids.”

Patricia de Lille, head of the Independent Democrats, said that the ANC had set ”a very bad example”.

Speaking to the M&G Online on Monday, she said: ”I think it’s absolutely disgusting that he has only served four months out of a four-year sentence … It’s impossible to rehabilitate the defendant in just 20 weeks.”

‘Good riddance’

Meanwhile, the South African Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) on Monday said that Yengeni’s early release is good riddance.

Sapohr president Golden Miles Bhudu welcomed Yengeni’s early release and said that the organisation did not have the time to comment on his ”childish, arrogant and spoiled-brat behaviour and misconduct”.

”That is why we say: ‘Good riddance’. Go home Comrade Tony, and stay out of trouble and as a result you will stay out of prison.”

Bhudu said Yengeni’s short stay was legally correct, as he was required to serve at least one sixth of his sentence, which was four months.

However, he said Yengeni had ”once again got off very, very lightly” over his alleged breaking of parole conditions as this is punishable by up to 10 years in jail or a fine or both.

”If there was any fairness in treating all of us equally in front of the law, Tony Yengeni should at least have his sentence prolonged [by] a few months.”

Bhudu said Yengeni should be called before the ANC’s disciplinary committee to explain his behaviour if the ANC did not want to be seen as condoning it.

The Inkatha Freedom Party said Yengeni’s early release was a national disgrace.

”The release of convicted fraudster, Tony Yengeni, from prison today … is a national disgrace and a clear indication that ANC high-profile prisoners receive preferential treatment,” IFP correctional services spokesperson Sybil Seaton said in a statement.

Seaton said every rule in the book had been changed or bent to accommodate Yengeni.

”It is shocking that the ANC’s former chief whip will be set free today after serving only 20 weeks of a four-year prison term … This after Mr Yengeni had a weekend parole in October, where he allegedly drank and reported back late to Malmesbury prison, breaking his parole conditions.

”Then, despite these infringements he was still allowed to allegedly have a very special Christmas party at prison with family and friends.

”The Department of Correctional Service and the ANC have made a complete mockery of his prison term,” she said.

Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour had said there would not be any special treatment for Yengeni in prison.

”This proved to be a lie, as every rule in the book has been changed or bent, it seems, to accommodate Mr Yengeni.

”The IFP wonders how government supposes ordinary South Africans should have any faith in the criminal justice system and the Department of Correctional Services if convicted criminals are treated like VIPs and set free without even serving a tenth of their sentence.

”This has turned out to be one big farce,” Seaton said.

Meanwhile, the DA has requested correctional services district commissioner Sipho Manqele to react to reports that Yengeni, held a ”private Christmas party” in the prison.

Selfe said on Friday said that the DA had spoken to the chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on correctional services, Dennis Bloem, requesting that Manqele appear before the committee to explain not only this latest incident, but a ”series of irregularities.”

According to Beeld, Yengeni’s wife Lumka was permitted to bring him a meal, which they shared behind closed doors while other prisoners had to make do with the prison’s kitchen food. – Sapa