Du Plessis sentenced for fraud

Pretoria - Seventeen years after the commission of the crime a former cabinet minister's son was sentenced to nine years imprisonment for over R35m fraud by a Pretoria judge on Thursday.

City businessman Johan du Plessis, son of Pietie du Plessis, who was minister of manpower in the 1980s, said he had expected the sentence and only wanted to get everything behind him. He hugged his wife and phoned his sister before going off to start his sentence.

Du Plessis was found guilty of 58 fraud charges and one of corruption, amounting to around R30m.

Du Plessis, his father and Jan Lombard Jr, son of a former vice president of the SA Reserve Bank, were involved in industrial development in the west of Pretoria and a complicated series of corporate take-overs by National Properties (Natprop) in the 1980s.

Lombard and Du Plessis Sr were respectively sentenced to eight and nine years' imprisonment.

Pietie du Plessis pleaded guilty. He served less than three years of his sentence before being released on parole and died of a heart attack in March last year.

Lombard was released under correctional supervision after serving 19 months of his sentence.

Land economist Judex Oberholzer was fined R180 000 and given a suspended jail sentence for his role in the debacle.

Judge Hekkie Daniels said he viewed Johan du Plessis' claims that he was remorseful and had actually wanted to plead guilty when the trial started four years ago, with great scepticism.

Du Plessis had not once during his lengthy trial, which had cost the South African taxpayer millions, indicated that he wanted to plead guilty.

He made it his task to blame everyone, except his father, for his dilemma and even went so far as to accuse State witnesses, the investigating officer and prosecutor of unprofessional conduct, conspiracy and fraud.

If one accepted Du Plessis' evidence in court this week, it meant that he had lied under oath when he testified during his trial, the judge said.

Du Plessis's "unhappy" childhood years had certainly not played a significant role in his crimes.

Du Plessis this week admitted that he was guilty, but claimed he did what he did to help his father financially. He claimed he wanted to plead guilty, but changed his mind because he became angry with the police for trying to "force" him to admit guilt. He claimed his reaction was "only human" - evidence rejected by the court as irrational and short-sighted - Du Plessis after all had four years to consider his actions.

Daniels said it seemed that Du Plessis was still blaming the system and was clearly not willing to accept responsibility for his actions.

He claimed he only made a direct profit of about R300 000, while the rest was used to help his father. What he received was used to pay for his legal fees, he claimed.

The State argued that Du Plessis had personally profited with over R2m. The judge pointed out that he was not bound by sentences passed on Du Plessis' co-conspirators and did not know what had motivated the sentences.

It could be argued that the nine-year jail sentence imposed on Du Plessis' father, who pleaded guilty to 17 fraud charges and played a far less active role in the fraud, was too harsh, he added.

Daniel described the amount involved in the fraud as "enormous".

Capital of more than R35m in Natprop had disappeared when the company was taken over and some shareholders had lost up to R600 000.

Du Plessis had directly benefited financially and the Stock Exchange, firms of auditors and other parties involved had been seriously prejudiced.

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