SA: Fraud considered more serious than murder -Heavier punishment imposed

South Africa has seen a surge of fraud related crimes happening within white-collar business sectors of the country. Fraud constitutes a serious economic crime and should not be treated as a normal theft issue. Company leaders must become more vigilant than ever to ensure that their company does not fall victim to the ever-present threat of fraud.

In a recent incident, a fraudster was given a 20-year jail sentence for stealing an accumulative amount of R4.9 million through fraud over a period of time. Reportedly Victor Kwenda plead guilty and showed remorse for his actions. Reports state that Kwenda’s defense team had hoped for a lighter sentence, since he was a first-time offender and had offered to pay the stolen funds back.

The latter plea was denied by the SCA. The denial of this plea has been noted as a warning to others involved in or potentially engaging in fraud. The severity of the problem within the country has led the court to engage in a protocol of strict and clear judgement. As such, instances of fraud may now carry a minimum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.

In this particular case, the reason for this judgement was further motivated by the fact that Kwenda was in the education and training sector. The funds he had stolen were intended for beneficiaries of the organisation he worked for, Merseta. According to the SCA; “about 200 youths from disadvantaged backgrounds were robbed of education and apprenticeship opportunities which would have enabled them to uplift themselves in society”. 

Within its judgement, the court referred to fraud as “a cancer that was crippling our country”, and through this ruling it was made clear that such activity will no longer be tolerated in any shape or form. Kyle Condon, Managing Director of D&K Management Consultants stated that; “Fraud is a huge problem in South Africa and the sad thing is that it is most often committed by the company’s own employees. These are people you have put your trust into. Unfortunately, this trust often leads to the exact blind spot that fraudsters need to do their work.”

Condon urges all company leaders to be vigilant and to conduct thorough background checks and security screenings on all employees and potential employees. It is also imperative that companies pay attention to their bottom line and do thorough audits, detailing where funds were allocated and if those funds did indeed reach their intended destinations.

“You can’t just trust that nobody is going to steal from you. If you do not have proper strategies in place to protect you from these fraudulent activities, then you stand a high risk of falling victim to fraud. It is an epidemic in South Africa, after all. It is encouraging to see that a stricter sentencing policy is being put into place. Criminals need to know that they will not be allowed to get away with their crimes,” concludes Condon.