Last Travelgate accused bites the dust

The last of the accused in the parliamentary travel-voucher saga has pleaded guilty to fraud, and will forfeit almost R3,5-million to the state.

Former Bathong Travel boss Mpho Lebelo appeared in the Cape High Court on Tuesday, where Judge President John Hlophe made her plea agreement an order of court.

In terms of the agreement she was handed a seven-year jail sentence, suspended for three years on condition she was not convicted of fraud or theft during that period. She would be under correctional supervision for three years, which effectively confines her to her Bloemfontein home, except for work and church services.

She has also agreed not to oppose the forfeiture of R3,45-million, which the state says is “the profit of crime”.

Lebelo was the last of 37 accused — 31 MPs and six travel agents — brought before the courts over allegations that they abused parliamentary travel vouchers meant only for air travel by using them to fund accommodation and car hire.

All the other cases were also dealt with through plea agreements: none of them came to trial.

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‘I’m glad it’s over’
She was arrested in July 2004, and first appeared in the high court in 2006.

Her plea agreement said the state accepted that the total amount “to which the accused was directly involved in the charges” was R10,6-million.

It said Lebelo or her company had benefited to the tune of about R3,45-million through commissions earned. She had pretended voucher claims were valid, and submitted false claims to Parliament.

The agreement said she had shown remorse, and that her court appearances and media attention had caused her “severe embarrassment, social disgrace and humiliation”.

Prosecutor Razia Valli-Omar said after the hearing: “I’m glad it’s over.”

Some of the MPs who pleaded guilty have left Parliament, but a number of them, including defence portfolio committee chairperson Nyami Booi, are still public representatives. — Sapa

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