‘J Arthur Brown got appropriate sentence’

2014-12-01 15:00

The National Prosecuting Authority has succeeded in overturning a “lenient” sentence for convicted fraudster J Arthur Brown.

He will now be jailed for 15 years each on the two charges of fraud he was convicted of last year.

After a case which dragged on for six years following his arrest on 197 charges including running South Africa’s largest Ponzi scheme, money laundering, fraud, and corruption related to his Fidentia group of companies, Brown pleaded guilty to two fraud charges.

Today, the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) overturned Brown’s suspended sentence and a fine of R150 000 for the charges.

The Western Cape High Court initially turned down the prosecution’s attempts to jail Brown for 15 years because its evidence during the trial was unconvincing, and Brown was only convicted on his admissions of guilt.

But when Dawood Seedat – who headed the Financial Services Board’s inspectorate at the time of investigation into the Fidentia group – was called to the stand to testify in aggravation of sentence, Judge Anton Veldhuizen was moved to accuse the state of botching its case.

Veldhuizen said, had Seedat been called as the first witness, he might not have accepted Brown’s plea.

The state’s heads of argument filed at the SCA, showed it believed that Seedat’s evidence was not new, but merely confirmed the prior testimony of Brown’s co-conspirators Steven Goodwin and Graham Maddock.

The prosecution argued that this, together with Brown’s guilty admissions, was enough to send Brown to jail for a long time. But the judge disregarded the evidence and focused on the admissions, resulting in an inappropriate sentence, according to the NPA.

The judge also took issue with the admissions, but wrongly raised them with the prosecution instead of the defence, the prosecution argued.

The 225 page appeal document details how the judge was given three options to deal with this, one of which was to continue with the trial and to ultimately call Seedat to the stand.

“[Brown] ... only changed his plea to guilty after the evidence of five state witnesses had been presented to the trial court,” said the prosecutors. “This was after four months of trial proceedings and when, as the expression has it, the writing was on the wall for [Brown].”

Dube Tshidi, executive officer of the Financial Services Board, said the previous sentence did not acknowledge the severity of Brown’s crime and the significant impact his actions had on thousands of poor South Africans.

“We are extremely pleased that the court has recognised this and instead decided to impose a custodial sentence of 15 years for each of the two counts for which he was charged,” he said. “This is a great day for South Africa’s justice system and for our citizens. It shows that no matter who you are, if you break the law, you will be prosecuted – and sentenced appropriately.”

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