Former Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s bodyguard and chauffeur was sentenced to an effective 15 years’ imprisonment by the Free State High Court on Wednesday (10/03).
Ricardo Mettler (43) was convicted of stealing a Pierneef painting from the premier’s office.
The former bodyguard was found guilty on four charges relating to the theft of the painting, estimated to be worth R8 million. These are theft, fraud, money laundering and perjury, pertaining to an affidavit he had made about obtaining the multi-million rand piece of art.
Judge Soma Naidoo handed down the sentence.
Phaladi Shuping, provincial spokesperson for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said Mettler was sentenced to 15 years for fraud and 15 for money laundering.
The money laundering charge relates to Mettler offering the painting to a Chinese businessman as a guarantee for a loan.
Investigation revealed that Mettler had pretended that the painting had been donated to him by Magashule, and that it legally belonged to him. Shuping explained that Judge Naidoo had in consequence sentenced Mettler to 12 months for perjury, as he had also made a false statement to that effect to the police.
The court heard that Mettler stole the painting in March 2018 while helping to vacate Magashule’s office.
“He removed the barcode and covered it with brown paper. He then offered the painting to Wei-Lun Hsu, for a loan of between R2 million and R3 million,” said Shuping.
“Hsu placed the painting in the newspapers to see if there was no one who would claim it.
“A senior official from the Department of Public Works recognised the painting and contacted Mettler requesting that he return it.
“Mettler refused and a charge of theft was laid against him.”
Advocate Antoinette Ferreira said that Mettler had known he was stealing a valuable painting the day he took it from the premier’s office.
“The accused had a motive when he wanted to disguise the marking,” said Ferreira.
“He knew the painting was valuable when he wanted to offer it to Hsu as a guarantee.
“He was twice requested to return the painting, but he refused.
“He was motivated by greed. He abused his position of trust and there is a public outcry from the community against public officials who think they are entitled to government resources.”
Mettler will effectively serve 15 years in prison, as ordered, and sentences will run concurrently.
He knew the painting was valuable when he wanted to offer it to Hsu as a guarantee. – Antoinette Ferreira