Man steals R1m but avoids prison

2011-10-12 22:46

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Johannesburg - A Western Cape property developer received a suspended sentence on Wednesday for stealing more than R1m from the trust account of an attorney's firm.

Pieter Johannes Groenewald, of Durbanville, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment suspended for five years by the Specialised Commercial Crime Court in Bellville, Cape Town.

He was ordered to repay the money in monthly instalments of R5 000.

Magistrate Amrith Chabilall said: "You are not going to prison today, but if you fail to make any of the payments on due date, or at all, the suspended jail sentence will be put into operation."

It emerged in court that Groenewald manipulated a conveyancing secretary, employed by the attorney's firm to steal the money.

He appeared in his personal capacity and also as the chief executive of Dangene Property Developers (Pty) Ltd, which is under liquidation.

The company - cited as "accused number one" on the charge sheet, while Groenwald was the second accused - was fined R100 000.

According to the charge sheet, the company bought an erf (plot) in Eversdal, which was bonded by Standard Bank, for R6.4m.

The property developer then sub-divided the property into seven portions.

Standard Bank consented to the sub-division on payment of R1 151 865 to release the property from the bond.

The conveyancing attorneys, MHI, paid the required release money to Standard Bank by means of an electronic fund transfer, but for reasons not explained the bank rejected the payment.

The money thus landed back in MHI's trust account.

MHI simply had to re-deposit the money, but Groenewald persuaded a conveyancing secretary to allow him to personally pay the rejected amount back to Standard Bank, on MHI's behalf.

In order for Groenewald to do this, the secretary made out a trust cheque to Dangene Property Developers.

According to the charge sheet, Groenewald then deposited the cheque into Dangene's account, instead of paying it to Standard Bank as he had undertaken to do.

As a consequence, MHI had to make good Standard Bank's loss.

Groenewald was found not guilty of fraud, and was instead found guilty on the alternative charge of theft.

- SAPA
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