Former Durban principal in the dock on 1 600 charges of theft and fraud

2017-08-16 16:42
(File, iStock)

(File, iStock)

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Durban - Former Glenwood High School headmaster Trevor Kershaw would be facing an "unfair trial" if he were forced to defend himself now against the approximate 1 600 charges of theft and fraud listed on the charge sheet.

This was the submission on Wednesday of his advocate, Gideon Scheltema, SC who argued on what was to be first day of Kershaw's trial in the Durban Commercial Crime Court, that the forensic auditor hired by the school to probe his client’s alleged crimes was not impartial and was intent on a character assassination.

He also accused the State of "swamping" the defence with "thousands and thousands" of documents in electronic form "some of it useless", withdrawing charges on the eve of the trial, "slipping in evidence through the backdoor" and "throwing the book" at his client.

Kershaw, 56, taught at the school for a number of years, was appointed principal in 2000 and retired early in December 2015.

He was arrested in April last year and, at that stage, was facing one count of fraud/alternatively theft, for allegedly misappropriating about R5m from school and boarding school funds.

A subsequent charge sheet, apparently drafted on completion of a forensic audit conducted by Integrated Forensic Services, lists 1 624 charges involving alleged reimbursements he made to himself in cash or through electronic transfers using "home made" invoices.

One of the counts involves the purchase of a Jeep Patriot for R370 000.

Scheltema, in his argument before Magistrate P Naidoo, objected to the presence of forensic auditor Eckhard Volker, who appeared ready to begin his evidence, with computers set up and four large "bins" containing dozens of files at the ready.

'Material witness'

The advocate said the charges were largely based on Volker's report.

"He is a material witness but our information is that he acted as an agent for the governing body of the school. He stands in the shoes of the complainant….he laid the criminal charges.

"The legality of this and his report will be in serious dispute at any eventual trial.

"He also gives character evidence in his report. He makes statements that my client had an aggressive management style, bordering on autocratic and being a bully….this is not the role of an accountant. 

"He is not an independent, impartial witness, he is an adversary," Scheltema said.

He said it had become an impossible task to go through the "epic" forensic report - with its graphs, spreadsheets, documents, files and subfiles "because we don’t know where to look and for what".

He said requests for further particulars were met with "look at the report", but even Volker had conceded the report was complex and could not just be printed out and read.

"We are not accountants. If a team of experts find this difficult, where does this leave the accused?"

He said very recently, Volker had actually conceded that 28 counts should not be prosecuted after re-examining the documents.

"We just don't know what other mistakes could have occurred," he said.

He accused the State of taking a simple matter - with one main charge - and turning it into an "impressive big case".

'Slipping into evidence'

In another response to a request for further particulars, the defence had been told to look at negative comments about the issue of Facebook.

"This is first for me," the experienced advocate said.

"There is also reference to newspaper articles which reflect 'outrage'. It is stated that apart from the financial loss, everyone in the school community suffered emotional duress.

"There is opinion - and yet no affidavits we have seen - which talks of talented boys opting not to go to the school, [because] of sponsorships for events being cancelled.

"All of this is slipping into evidence….someone is trying to sensationalise the matter.

"From day one there has been a campaign to paint my client in a bad light."

Scheltema asked for more time to present case law to the magistrate and Prosecutor Wendy O’Brien will then be given an opportunity to respond.

The magistrate will then have to make a ruling on the way forward.

According to documents attached to the charge sheet, the Asset Forfeiture Unit "froze" Kershaw's assets last year. This included his house in Westville and the Jeep.

They remain under attachment.

Read more on:    durban  |  crime

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