Maropeng guilty of R1m theft

Nelspruit - Former Mpumalanga deputy speaker Cynthia Maropeng and three accomplices narrowly escaped spending the night in prison on Wednesday after they were found guilty of stealing almost R1 million from the local government.

The gang used a network of secret front companies and "blind" bank accounts to siphon the money out of legislature's coffers over a two-year period.

Maropeng was finally caught after the media reported on her abuse of tenders for personal benefit, including the purchase of a house, furniture, and personal items such as crates of baby oil and underclothes with tax funds.

Magistrate Albertus le Roux initially refused on Wednesday to extend bail until sentencing on July 27 for a visibly shocked Maropeng, who appeared surprised at the verdict. Magistrate Le Roux finally relented, however, after hearing desperate legal presentations from separate teams of attorneys representing Maropeng, disgraced legislature financial director Jomo Siboza, legislature secretary Wilson Ngwenya and his predecessor, Alfred Mahlangu.

The four shell-shocked thieves were finally released on bail of between R2 000 and R5 000 each.

Maropeng, Ngwenya and Siboza were found guilty on nine theft charges totalling R979 600, while Mahlangu was found guilty on 27 theft charges totalling R165 800.

All four were acquitted on an additional R900 000 theft charge, bringing to an end one of Mpumalanga's most acrimonious and longest running corruption trials.

Maropeng 'won't be singled out for minor irregularities'

Maropeng told the court during the trial that Mpumalanga's administration and its ruling ANC government were so corrupt that she should not be singled-out and blamed for "minor" irregularities.

Insisting she was being victimised for falling out of political favour with powerful ANC colleagues, Maropeng alleged that far more serious crimes were being committed with impunity by far more important politicians.

She also insisted that she was merely emulating techniques used by political colleagues for setting up front companies and winning government tenders.

Magistrate Le Roux dismissed Maropeng's testimony, however, branding the fast-talking politician as an extremely poor witness who repeatedly contradicted herself and at time pretended not to understand simple issues in an attempt to avoid the issue.

'Blamed others for her own deeds'

"She had been unable to explain numerous and serious inconsistencies in her testimony and couldn't resist the temptation to blame others for her own deed," said le Roux.

Le Roux added that it was clear from expert testimony by legislature legal adviser Gojagoja Zama that Maropeng knew it was illegal to appropriate "earmarked" funds for unauthorised projects.

Maropeng also knew it was illegal to channel tax funds into secret bank accounts, and to use such funds for personal expenses.

Le Roux ruled that Maropeng abused her position and power, but dismissed the defence by her co-accused that they had been intimidated into obeying orders to defraud government.

Le Roux also pointed out that Ngwenya and Siboza had earlier admitted stealing an additional R330 000 by submitting fraudulent claims for a non-existent scholarship in Canada.

All four appeared shocked at the verdict but were not prepared to comment when they eventually left the court pending sentencing on July 27. - African Eye News Service

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