Magistrate cuts criminal some slack
Cape Town - A Nigerian man was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment, suspended for five years, on Monday after he was caught in possession of a skimming device used to clone bank cards.
Vuyani Vongwe appeared before Magistrate Amrith Chabillal in the Bellville Specialised Commercial Crimes Court in Cape Town.
He had already been jailed twice for armed robbery, prosecutor Ezmeralda Johnson told the court.
Defence attorney Howard Andrews said the convictions had been in the 1990s and were of no relevance to the latest conviction.
Johnson suggested that a heavy fine would send the message that convicted credit card offenders could not expect leniency from the courts.
However, Chabillal said a suspended jail sentence would hang over Vongwe's head.
Andrews said the offence had been "opportunistic" and that Vongwe had seen the device as a way of making money.
Chabillal said skimming devices could scan confidential information from bank cards and enable the production of counterfeit cards, but that Vongwe had been caught before he could use the skimmer.
He said credit and debit cards had largely replaced cash transactions, and the reason for the Electronic Communications Act was to protect innocent consumers whose cards landed in the wrong hands.
Chabillal said financial constraints had forced Vongwe to abandon his studies.
"This suspended jail sentence is your opportunity to make a fresh start - you are intelligent enough to know that study and education will put you on the correct road," Chabillal told Vongwe.
"Keep your nose out of trouble and stay out of jail, because if you end up in a criminal court again, this suspended sentence will be put into operation."
Chabillal declared the skimming device forfeited to the State and ordered that it be destroyed.
He also declared Vongwe unfit to possess a firearm.