Fraud mastermind jailed for 20 years, could lose millions in assets
WHILE serving a 20-year sentence for defrauding the tax man of more than R250 million in fictitious VAT return claims, Cape Town businessman Johan van Staden will have to fight one more battle – an Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) bid to strip him of millions of rands worth of assets.
The AFU has about R6m of Van Staden’s assets under restraint and its next step in the process is to apply for a confiscation order. On June 27 – the day Van Staden was convicted – the unit applied to have a confiscation inquiry held to quantify the benefit Van Staden had derived from the fraud. A date for the inquiry has not yet been set.
Van Staden, 54, convicted of fraud, racketeering, money laundering and reckless trading, was led down to the holding cells of the Western Cape High Court yesterday after Judge Anton Veldhuizen sentenced him to an effective 20 years behind bars.
The court found he was the mastermind of a multimillion-rand VAT fraud scheme, the largest to ever be pros- ecuted in the Western Cape.
He committed the fraud between 2005 and 2008 as the representative vendor of Indo Atlantic Seafoods (Pty) Limited, Indo Atlantic Shipping Limited and Southern Ocean Marine Corporation (Pty) Limited and as the person who was legally responsible for their VAT returns.
Passing sentence yesterday, Judge Veldhuizen said he could not find any factors which he regarded as unusual or which distinguished Van Staden from others. Although Van Staden had health problems, they were not serious and were treatable with the right medication.
The judge also pointed out that Van Staden had a previous conviction involving the presentation of false currency.
Turning to the crimes of which Van Staden was convicted, Judge Veldhuizen said he could hardly imagine a more serious case of fraud than this.
“It was committed again and again over a period of many years. You had ample opportunity to desist, but despite warnings, persisted with the dishonest conduct. This resulted in a potential loss of nearly R280m and an actual loss of about R250m,” he said.
The judge also pointed out that the fraud affected all taxpayers and the public.
“You appropriated money which could have been used for the benefit of the general public and especially the less privileged members of society. This you did to maintain your lavish lifestyle,” he said.
Judge Veldhuizen found it particularly disturbing that Van Staden lied when he gave evidence and tried to shift the blame.
“This conclusion is supported by the fact that, when you regained control over your assets and until the restraint order was reinstated by the Supreme Court of Appeal, you dissipated nearly R12m. This is, to this day, unaccounted for and happened over a period of approximately 18 months.
“These factors serve to aggravate the already serious crimes of which you stand convicted.”
He sentenced Van Staden to 20 years for the racketeering and money laundering, an additional 20 years for fraud, and two years for each of the three reckless trading convictions.The court ordered the sentences run concurrently, which means Van Staden’s effective sentence amounts to 20 years.
Eric Ntabazalila, the National Prosecuting Authority’s provincial spokesman, welcomed the sentence.
“This sentence should act as a deterrent to other criminals contemplating similar schemes. Such criminals need to know what awaits them if they succumb to the temptation to target the fiscus/Sars.”
He said the NPA was studying the judgment to determine whether or not to appeal the acquittal of Van Staden’s co-accused, Marc Schoeman, Gerhard Botha and Gary Newmark.
Johan van Staden was found guilty of defrauding Sars of more than R250 million over several years and sentenced to 20 years in jail.