To my mind
THE WHEEL TURNS slowly but surely. To an outsider it often seems as if there’s little law or justice in the case of whitecollar crime – probably because it takes so long before a guilty party is punished. For many of us, especially investors who lost money and who have had to look on while Peter Gardener and Rod Mitchell – the main characters in the LeisureNet saga – were apparently still happily living normal lives, it looked as if the wheel of justice had ground to a halt.
However, last week – after about seven years – both were finally found guilty of fraud, so they should now spend a good few years behind bars.
That extended process is in sharp contrast to the speedy hearing, conviction and sentencing to 25 years in jail of one of David Rattray’s murderers. In that criminal investigation and hearing it took a mere 10 days for the law to mete out punishment.
It would be naïve to think that fraud and corruption cases could be dealt with as quickly as murder. Commercial crime is much more difficult to prove. That’s clear from the number of high-profile cases that have dragged on for aeons.
At the beginning of this year we reported that alleged fraudsters such as Gary Porritt, Dave King, Johan Myburgh and Jeff Levenstein have all been arrested – some more than four years ago – but their cases haven’t yet been heard.
Dinesh Gihwala, joint curator in the current Fidentia case, has already indicated that it could take years to determine the extent of the alleged misappropriation of funds in SA’s latest case of alleged corporate fraud.
However, it’s being said that the Financial Services Board’s investigation, which has been proceeding for six months, hasn’t been able to shed any light on the alleged scandal.
To meet the requirements of a fair hearing, it’s important for justice to be served. However, we have serious reservations concerning the State’s ability to achieve that. With an entire slew of highprofile cases that must come before the courts this year, the State’s resources and skills – already thinly spread – will be tested to the utmost.
We reported earlier that SA’s law enforcement agencies’ reputations are in the balance. Agencies have already shown that they have a success rate of around 90% when cases eventually reach the court, but many of those are settled through plea-bargaining, which is increasingly becoming the norm.
The system allows “lesser” criminals to give evidence against and help convict the alleged masterminds. For example, PSC Guaranteed Growth founder Jack Milne served less than a year of an eight-year sentence for his role in the fraud in which investors lost millions. In exchange, Milne gave evidence against the alleged mastermind.
But despite the evidence of Milne and of the company’s so-called auditor, Grant Ramsay, who also signed a plea-bargaining agreement, the State has not yet completed its case against Gary Porritt. That raises the question of whether the pleabargaining system really is a success.
Though a plea-bargaining system can certainly play a useful role, it’s more important for the skills and resources of agencies specialising in commercial crime to be strengthened and expanded so that it won’t be necessary for them to rely so heavily on the system. That, along with the introduction of specialised commercial crime courts, could help speed up trials.
If SA wants to show that it’s serious about tackling commercial crime and corruption, it will have to give every support to those agencies responsible for bringing guilty parties to justice.