Eight people who were convicted and sentenced for fuel theft have managed to get their lengthy sentences reduced by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA).
The group was involved in an unlawful operation through which fuel was stolen from Sasol and Engen over 15 years ago.
They are Nazier Ahmed Tiry, Patricia Shangweni, Abraham Tshabalala, Anthony Nyamusa, Alfred Buthelezi, Vellie Sithole, Solomon Nkosi, and Joseph Moisi.
The Bloemfontein High Court had initially sentenced nine people, however, one has since died.
They were also charged with conducting or participating in an enterprise conducted through a pattern of racketeering activities.
According to the the SCA judgment, Tiry was the kingpin of the operation.
The evidence revealed that Tiry was the mastermind of, and ran, a criminal enterprise through which he stole petroleum products from Sasol and Engen, using the tank farms at both Zutundu situated in Limpopo, and Quarry Hoek in the Free State, read the judgment.
The illegal operation was discovered in 2006.
Tiry stayed with his lover, Sangweni on Zutundu farm in Mookgophong, formerly known as Naboomspruit in Limpopo.
When the theft was discovered, and Tiry was arrested, he moved to Free State and started a new unlawful tank farm operation on a farm, Quarry Hoek, near Warden.
The judgment reads:”The farms were strategically situated in close proximity to the national roads used by the freight companies to transport Sasol and Engen’s petroleum products.”
Tiry’s farms were surrounded by high walls, and a number of bulk storage tanks and pipes had been erected, which were used to decant and store the products.
Tiry was said to have had contact with the tanker drivers – who were also arrested and convicted for the offence. The drivers would divert from their routes onto the farms and unlawfully decant petroleum products there.
He would pay the drivers and later on sell the stolen products to fuel retailers and possibly others at a reduced price lower than the regulated price.
“The stolen petroleum products were loaded from Sasol’s Secunda plant, and were destined to be delivered at the Engen depot in Mokopane, or in one instance at Rustenberg.
“The basis for the charges was that drivers of tankers carrying diesel or petrol consigned to the Engen depot would divert to Zutundu, discharge all or part of their cargo in return for payment of an agreed price and then Mr Tiry would dispose of the stolen product to various retail outlets and possibly others,” read the judgment.
Meanwhile, his partner Sangweni, continuously and actively abetted her partner’s criminal enterprise in exchange for a lavish lifestyle, said the court.
“As far as Ms Sangweni is concerned, it is so that there is no evidence of her direct involvement with the buying and selling of petroleum products or the physical operation of any of the two farms. However, her association with Mr Tiry’s activities was clearly established. They were apparently in an intimate relationship and lived together at Zutundu and Quarry Hoek.
“The nature of the business being carried on there would have been immediately apparent to her, surrounded as she was by a fully equipped tank farm in each place. She would have known that tankers would arrive at the properties at all times of day or night and discharge their cargoes. She cannot have believed that such clandestine activities were lawful.”
The court document also said bank accounts used by the enterprise were opened in her name, or that of a close corporation, PDN Investments CC, of which she was the sole member. The motor vehicles were registered in the name of the close corporation.
In October 2016, the Bloemfontein High Court sentenced Tiry to an effective 30 years in prison, while his lover was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
The other accused were given 15 years each in prison. They approached the SCA arguing they did not receive a fair trial.
They also argued that their sentences were excessive and unreasonably harsh. The accused complained about the trial judge’s conduct and the invalidity of the search and seizure warrant in respect of Quarry Hoek.
On the issue of the trial judge’s conduct, the SCA said there were several incidents on record which showed that on a few occasions the judge was “impatient, sarcastic, overbearing, brash and downright rude towards counsel.”
But it said the judge’s conduct did not render the appellants’ trial unfair.
“The appellants were afforded every opportunity to advance their defense over a protracted period.”
Tiry’s sentence was, however, reduced to 20 years, while Sengwayo received 15 years.
The others were each sentenced to seven years. The sentences were backdated to 16 October 2016 being the date the appellants were sentenced.