A Durban bookkeeper swapped a luxury Umhlanga apartment for a prison cell on Tuesday after he was sentenced to an effective eight years in jail for swindling the tax man out of R6.4m.
“Dishonest, deceitful and conniving” were the words Durban Regional Court magistrate, M Reddy, used to describe Vikash Mohan – who once worked for the SA Revenue Service in the call centre.
Reddy convicted Mohan of fraud and money laundering, relating to false VAT claims he made on behalf of Raven Logistics via e-filing in 2012.
In the dock with Mohan was the owner of the logistics company Ravendra Naidoo – who shared in the spoils and was convicted of theft – and his wife Prebashni Naidoo who represented the company, which was convicted of fraud.
Reddy sentenced Naidoo to five years in prison in terms of specific legislation. This means he could be released on correctional supervision after serving 10 months. He also received an eight-year suspended sentence. The company was fined R500 000, also wholly suspended.
One of the money laundering charges against Mohan related to him buying an apartment at The Pearls for R2.8m.
Attempts by SARS to attach the property were resisted by him up until last month when, according to the evidence before the court presented by specialist tax prosecutor Selvan Govender, he agreed to move out on the advice of a new attorney he hired to deal with sentencing proceedings.
In her judgment on sentence, Reddy referred to this as his “final surrender”, which had come too late in the day.
“This trial has been ongoing since April 2016 and you grasped at every opportunity to delay the matter. Your conduct was pathetic and reprehensible… and only now have you withdrawn opposition to the application to attach the property.
“You blamed your previous attorney for this… but you are devious and have shown a shocking lack of integrity.”
She said the crime was particularly heinous because State coffers were under siege and depleted and VAT had recently been increased because of decreased government revenue.
Reddy had equally harsh words for Ravendra Naidoo.
Although he had played a lesser role in the crime, he had still transferred some of the money to Mohan while knowing it was an invalid VAT refund. He has also used some of the money for himself.
In respect of both men, however, she found substantial and compelling circumstances to deviate from the prescribed minimum sentence of 15 years in prison.
This was because they were both first offenders and, she said, such a sentence would not be in the interests of justice in this matter.
The men did not apply for leave to appeal and began serving their sentences immediately.
Last week, Mohan was convicted of a similar offence relating to another company, where he claimed VAT refunds of R7m, although the money was not paid over. He was fined R20 000 and given a seven-year suspended sentence.
He is presently facing more charges of VAT fraud involving R235m, which has yet to come to trial.