No lenience for ANC kingpin John Block‚ who 'used status to enrich himself'

21 August 2018 - 12:38
By Ernest Mabuza
Former ANC Northern Cape chairman John Block.
Image: Tsheko Kabasia Former ANC Northern Cape chairman John Block.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) has dismissed an appeal by former ANC Northern Cape chairman John Block and a business associate Christo Scholtz against 15 year jail terms imposed on them for corruption.

The charges on which Block and Scholtz were convicted arose from lease agreements from May 2006 to August 2008 between various state entities and departments in the Northern Cape and members of what became known as the Trifecta Group of Companies.

Scholtz‚ a businessman from Pretoria who was engaged in the private equity business‚ came into contact with Sarel Breda‚ with whom he identified business prospects in the Northern Cape.

Their business model was to identify rundown buildings that could be renovated into offices and then leased to state entities. In due course a number of leases were concluded‚ which went to the heart of the charges that were brought later.

The Northern Cape High Court held that Block‚ then a senior politician in the province‚ had corruptly used his influence to ensure that Breda and his companies obtained some of the leases. They were concluded with the state without the necessary statutory protocols and procedures being followed.

Block‚ in return‚ was paid substantial gratifications‚ including two sums of R228‚000 and R500‚000.

Scholtz and Block were convicted of corruption by the High Court and each sentenced to 15 years. They were eventually granted leave to appeal against their convictions and sentences.

On Tuesday‚ the SCA held that Block and Scholtz were correctly convicted of corruption and their appeal against this failed. Their bid to appeal against the 15-year jail terms was dismissed.

The appeal court said Block was 50 years old‚ married‚ with four dependent children‚ two of whom are minors.

Judge of Appeal Eric Leach said a statement by Block’s counsel confirming that he maintained his elderly parents and extended family‚ that he partially lost the use of his right arm after a motor vehicle accident and that he suffered from high blood pressure was not disputed.

It was argued on behalf of Block that a fine of R1m‚ coupled with a suspended sentence of imprisonment‚ would be an adequate sentence for his corruption conviction.

“I cannot agree. Mr Block was a political leader who achieved high political office. Unfortunately‚ he used his status to corruptly enrich himself‚” Leach said in a unanimous judgment of the full bench.

Leach said if there was any prospect of fighting endemic corruption in South Africa‚ it was for our political leaders to set the example and not to misuse public office to corruptly obtain personal wealth.

In the case of Scholtz‚ the appeal court had regard for his personal circumstances‚ including the fact that his wife died in 2013 and that he had lost his son in a tragic farming incident.

The court said it was not persuaded that Scholtz’s personal circumstances constituted convincing reasons for a sentence less than the prescribed minimum.

“Successful business people should set the standard by acting properly‚ not corruptly.”