Sentence for tax fraud ‘too lenient’

2009-08-26 00:00

THE state has appealed to the high court in Pietermaritzburg to increase a non-custodial sentence imposed on a Durban-based former medical doctor, Imran Hassim (41), who pleaded guilty in August last year to 13 counts of VAT and income tax fraud totalling R3,9 million.

Durban regional magistrate Fariedha Mohammed imposed a 10-year suspended jail sentence on Hassim on condition that he does not commit similar offences, repaid the SA Revenue Service (SARS) a total of R1,5 million in instalments by the end of May this year, and performs 1 000 hours of community service at a hospital dealing with HIV in Durban.

State advocate Meera Naidu submitted to judges Pete Koen and Anton van Zyl that the sentence failed to take into account a number of aggravating factors. “Lenient sentences definitely create the impression that the game is worth the candle,” she said.

She pointed out that two counts of income tax fraud, each involving more than R500 000, attract a prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment for a first offender.

But Mohammed found compelling and substantial circumstances justifying the imposition of less.

Advocate Tar Aboobaker SC, representing Hassim, argued that the sentence is a just one and should not be altered.

He submitted that Hassim has suffered as a result of the negative publicity he received, was forced to close his practice and was bankrupted when SARS attached his bank accounts and other assets in a bid to recover money from him.

He is obliged to live his life “under the cloud” for having been convicted of dishonesty.

The court also heard that Hassim is seriously ill with a heart condition and other ailments.

Naidu said the R1,5 million the court ordered Hassim to pay back is not even half of the total amount involved in the fraud he committed. She said the ailments are treatable in jail.

She submitted that Hassim admitted his guilt only in the face of overwhelming evidence, and that he apparently committed the offences out of greed and not need.

Naidu urged the court to take into account that Hassim’s earnings over the 22 months in which he committed the fraud by “meticulously” filling out inaccurate information on his tax returns would have been around R10 million.

Judgment has been reserved.

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