Cwele sentence too light — State

2012-05-04 00:00

CONVICTED cocaine traffickers Sheryl Cwele and Frank Nabolisa received lighter sentences than they deserved and should face the minimum 15 years in jail prescribed by the law instead.

This will be argued by the state before the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.

No date has yet been finalised for the appeal to be heard.

In the case of Cwele in particular, the state believes that there are aggravating circumstances that necessitate a harsher sentence, including that she was a nurse and knew the dangers of hard drugs, as well as that she had used government offices to commit the crime.

At the time of her conviction and sentence Cwele was employed as the Hibiscus Coast Municipality’s director for health and community services.

She was also the wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele, but the couple divorced on August 23 last year, three months after she was sentenced.

In papers opposing the appeals filed on behalf of the convicted pair, state advocate Ian Cooke submitted that both Cwele and Nabolisa should have been sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment each.

This was the sentence applicable to both of them in terms of minimum legislation provisions unless (as was accepted by trial Judge Pete Koen) there were substantial reasons to deviate.

Cooke submitted the trial court’s “apparent reluctance to impose the prescribed minimum term” was a misdirection.

He said there was “nothing extraordinary” about Cwele that called for a lesser sentence, while there were in fact several aggravating factors.

These included the fact that her nursing qualifications had no doubt taught her the dangers of hard drugs; that she put up a false version at her trial but shied away from cross examination (by electing not to testify in her defence), and that she showed no remorse.

Cooke said the trial court also erred in not finding that it was aggravating that Cwele used her Hibiscus Coast municipal office and resources (office space, equipment, telephone and time) to commit the crime.

“Perhaps he [the judge] was reluctant to say anything about the link between such behaviour and poor service delivery.”

This part of the trial was a fortnight before the local government elections, he said.

Cooke said in respect of Nabolisa the time he had spent awaiting his trial was self-inflicted and ought not to redound to his benefit.

Cooke said both accused were correctly convicted based on all the evidence.

In written arguments on behalf of Cwele, advocate Kemp J. Kemp SC said the evidence may well have established that when Cwele arranged for two young women (Tessa Beetge and Charmaine Moss) to travel overseas in 2008 she knew it was to serve a “nefarious and unlawful purpose”.

However, he said there was no evidence Cwele knew it was to bring back cocaine and serve as drug mules for Nabolisa.

The fact that “one woman” (Beetge) was arrested in transit to South Africa with cocaine concealed in her luggage was not sufficient proof that she had guilty knowledge in that regard, he said.

“There was no evidence that the appellant [Cwele] dabbled in the drug trade or which connects her to such trade where such connection indicates knowledge.

“A not guilty verdict should follow,” said Kemp when summing up his argument.

Advocate Koos van Vuuren SC submitted on behalf of Nabolisa that the trial court incorrectly drew inferences from circumstantial evidence.

It also wrongly found that Nabolisa was the “main perpetrator” in the commission of the offence, he said.

He further said the sentence imposed on Nabolisa was severe, induced a sense of shock, and did not adequately take into account that Nabolisa had spent 15 months in custody awaiting trial.

• ingrido@witness.co.za

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