WINDHOEK - Tears of joy and sorrows, along with hugs and kisses, were the order of the day when three people convicted of 513 counts of fraud, contravening the Banking Institutions Act and Contravening the Companies Act were sentenced to different terms of imprisonment and fines yesterday by Windhoek High Court Judge Alfred Siboleka.
For Charles van Rensburg, the main accused in the massive fraud trial that has been coming for the last 13 years, it was tears of relief and congratulatory hugs from his family after the judge gave him a wholly suspended sentence on the fraud conviction and fines on other convictions. For the second and third accused, married couple Melanie Grace van Niekerk and her husband, Jesaja Jeremia (JJ) van Niekerk, it was tears of sorrow and hugs of fortification from friends and family after they were sentenced to direct terms of imprisonment coupled with fines.
Judge Siboleka sentenced Van Rensburg to two years imprisonment wholly suspended for five years on condition that he is not convicted of an offence involving deceit, Melanie to a direct jail term of six years and her husband to a direct jail term of four years. On the count of conducting banking business without a license, he sentenced each accused to a fine of N$50 000 or three years imprisonment and on the count of reckless or fraudulent carrying on of a business to a fine of N$20 000 or one year imprisonment.
Van Rensburg and the van Niekerk couple were found guilty after a trial of more than three years in which almost 80 of the people they swindled testified in April this year.
They were accused and convicted of operating an illegal pyramid investment company at Oranjemund between February, 2004 and August, 2006 through which they solicited at least N$11.4 million from acquaintances, friends and family by promising unrealistic returns, ranging between seven and 15 percent a month. They operated a business called West Coast Financial Aid cc in which van Rensburg and JJ van Niekerk had equal shares and employed Melanie van Niekerk as principle officer. Melanie also had a business called Mias Micro-Lending.
The three denied guilt on all the charges preferred against them - 256 counts of fraud, alternatively theft, 256 counts of conducting banking business without a license and one count of reckless or fraudulent carrying on of a business at the start of their trial in February 2015.
According to Judge Siboleka, most of the investors in the business were frail elderly pensioners who lost all their pension money. He said that the evidence showed that large sums of investor's money were deposited into the private bank accounts of the van Niekerk couple for their own use, while there is no evidence that investor's money was paid into the private bank account of van Rensburg for his own use and benefit.
He further said that after Melanie "noticed serious irreparable cash flow problems and had dismally failed to remedy the situation, she nonetheless continued to lure most of the still unsuspecting victims out there to continue investing more money while she already knew that she will not be able to pay the amounts back". The judge went on to say that the fraudulent misrepresentation to the victims to invest in West Coast Financial Aid cc was stretched for a long time which resulted in some of the victims making large sums of investments at various intervals.
"On the interest of society, it is important to record that this fraudulent scheme attracted a substantial number of members of the public who were attracted by a promise of untenable high monthly interests. It is the promise for the return of the capital and monthly interest payments that attracted many victims. The public was deceived and cheated out and have hence suffered severe loss and as a result the accused must be punished."