The High Court in the Free State has jailed seven police officers for contravening the Immigration Act by facilitating the illegal movement of undocumented travelers between Lesotho and South Africa.
The seven police constables who worked at the Ficksburg Border Post were initially sentenced to a combined 1 231 years before the court reduced their effective jail time to a combined 78 years.
Philemon Moloi (32), Malefetsane Khala (33), Lapapa Thithi (37), Dumisane Matobako (35), Vincent Mokhitli (37), Modise Malefane (37) will now each spend 12 years in prison while the only female officer, Edith Qasha, will spend six years behind bars. Constable Qasha admitted to the crime during the investigations and the judge took it as a show of remorse on sentencing her.
The seven were found guilty of corruption and racketeering for soliciting for bribes from travelers who did not have valid travel documents for the two neighbours. The crimes are said to have taken place between March 2016 and March 2017.
All the accused were arrested after lengthy investigations by an operation comprising South Africa's Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (the Hawks), South African Police Service Crime Intelligence and the Specialized Commercial Crimes Unit. The investigation was launched after suspicions that they were illegally allowing travelers without valid documents to cross between the two countries.
According to a statement by South Africa's National Prosecutions Authority (NPA), the accused would charge anything between R100 and R250 to allow people without valid documents to cross the border. All the money collected would then be given to one of the accused persons for safekeeping before they shared it at the end of their shifts.
The NPA said as a result of the criminal activities, they would each pocket anything between R100 and R2500 daily. They made approximately R60 400 from their activities.
Constable Moloi was initially sentenced to 174 years. Khala 147 years, Thithi 201 years, Matobako (207 years), Mokhitli (265 years), Modise (149 years) and Qasha 88 years. However, Constables Moloi, Khala, Thithi, Matobako, Mokhitli and Molise will now serve effective 12 years each while Constable Qasha will spend the next six years behind bars.
"The legal representatives of the accused requested the court to impose non-custodial sentences because of minimal amounts that the accused benefitted from," the statement from the NPA reads.
"However, the prosecutor, Advocate Mvuseni Ponye, from the Specialised Commercial Crimes Unit, implored the court to impose custodial sentences because the accused were police officers who were expected to preserve law and order and had a responsibility of ensuring that everyone coming into South Africa has valid documents," reads the statement.
Advocate Ponye also held that the argument should not be about the money involved but the criminal conduct of the officers and the damage it caused to the country.
"Their criminal acts put the lives of many South Africans at risk. They did not care even if they were allowing fugitives to flee from the law to come to South Africa. The only sentence the court could impose is a term of direct imprisonment," Advocate Ponye argued.
Concurring with the prosecution, Judge Martha Mbhele imposed direct imprisonment on all the accused persons suspending some of the years. They were then handed effective 12-year jail terms, except for Qasha who was handed over a six year sentence, all without an option of a fine.