Tax fraud: doctor to get new sentence

2009-09-09 00:00

THE high court in Pietermaritzburg has ordered a regional magistrate to revisit the sentence she imposed on former Durban medical doctor Imran Hassim (41), after finding the trial court misdirected itself when assessing a suitable sentence.

Judges Pete Koen and Anton van Zyl ruled that the trial court did not properly consider all the sentencing options available, including the possibility of imposing correctional supervision, and said for the high court to determine a sentence simply based on what was on record would result in a sentence that was “arbitrary and probably inappropriate”.

Judges Koen and Van Zyl made these findings in a reserved judgment handed down yesterday, in response to an application by the state for an increase in the sentence that was originally imposed on Hassim by magistrate Fariedha Mohammed.

Hassim pleaded guilty in August 2008 to 13 counts of VAT and income tax fraud to the tune of R3,9 million.

Mohammed sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment, wholly suspended on condition that Hassim does not commit similar offences and repaid the SA Revenue Service R1 500 000, and ordered him to perform 1 000 hours of community service at a hospital dealing with HIV in Durban.

State advocate Meera Naidu submitted the sentence was “shockingly lenient”.

Judges Koen and Van Zyl found that there were a number of issues relating to the sentence that required further investigation by the magistrate.

For example, the appeal court found that it was not clear whether the R1,5 million that Hassim was ordered to repay the SARS would be “in repayment of a larger total debt (including capital, interest and penalties).

“A condition of suspension relating to payment of that amount, where on the record no inquiry and investigation into the actual amount due was undertaken, constitutes a misdirection,” said Koen.

Concerning the condition that Hassim has to perform 1 000 hours of community service, the judges said community service is not to be confused with correctional supervision.

The judges said it was clear that the magistrate contemplated a non-custodial sentence and, in that regard, correctional supervision was a possible option, but no report was obtained and it was never properly considered.

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