Former Northern Cape finance MEC and ANC chairperson, John Block’s appeal against his conviction on charges of corruption and money laundering were dismissed by the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein today.
Block, along with the CEO of the Trifecta group of companies, Christo Scholtz, and several companies in which they had interests, were found guilty of these charges in the Northern Cape High Court in 2016. They relate to kickbacks that were made to influence the awarding of leases to Trifecta for government offices across the Northern Cape between May 2006 and August 2008.
They were found to have inflated prices on the lease agreement between them and the Northern Cape social development department and the pair were both sentenced to 15 years behind bars.
Following his guilty verdict, Block resigned as the Northern Cape ANC chairperson and finance MEC.
A forfeiture order of R2 million was also made against Block, while an order of R53 million was made against Scholtz and Trifecta.
The court in its judgment found that Block had unduly benefited by using his influence as a senior politician in the province to ensure that the leases were granted to Trifecta, without the necessary protocols being adhered to. In return, he was found to have received R228 000 and R500 000.
In a statement released after the ruling today, the SCA said the court had “exhaustively analyzed the evidence relating to these particular counts and held that the two amounts of R228 000 and R500 000 were corrupt gratifications which fell within the ambit of the charge of corruption set out in the indictment”.
These payments related only to two buildings, The Kimberlite Hotel and the NCTC building.
In addition, the court found that “various other substantial gratifications which had been paid to Block had probably also been paid to him as part of a corrupt relationship but that those payments had not related to the two buildings mentioned and that the state had limited itself to those buildings in its charge”.
“The court believes despite the charges against him being framed in such a way that they only related to these specific buildings, he would most likely have been found guilty on charges relating to other buildings as well.”
The court dismissed Block’s assertion that he could not be convicted since the payments were only made after the contracts had been concluded.
The SCA also ruled that there were no circumstances which justified a reduction of the 15-year sentence imposed on Block, saying that Block “had been a political leader who had achieved high political office which he abused to corruptly enrich himself; and that the political leaders of this country should set the example and not misuse public office to corruptly obtain personal wealth”.
Scholtz’s conviction relating to the two buildings was set aside, since the state conceded it could not prove unequivocally he had known of the payments made to Block in these deals, by his now-deceased partner, Sarel Breda.
He, however, did not get off that lightly with regard to six other leases, which were even more beneficial than these two, and which involved former MP Yolanda Botha, who was given a 10% shareholding in Trifecta in return for securing the contracts.
The SCA dismissed his claims that he had left the running of the business to Breda, saying even if Scholtz “had not been actively involved in negotiating the leases, it would be extending the bounds of credulity to accept that he was obliviously unaware of all the negotiations leading up to their conclusion”.
The court therefore also upheld his conviction and sentence.