Bfn businessman escapes Pierneef prosecutions

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A prominent Bloemfontein businessman, Wei-Lin Hsu, who was offered the valued Pierneef painting as a guarantee for a loan of over R2 million, is exempted from prosecution.

OFM News reports, he Free State High Court Judge, Soma Naidoo, says she found Hsu’s testimony in chief over the theft of the art peice worth R8 million to be satisfactory because he was upfront with details he provided to the court. The court heard how the convicted Ricardo Mettler approached Hsu on the day of Premier Sisi Ntombela’s inauguration on 28 March 2018 and asked for financial assistance.

Mettler is said to have delivered the painting to the offices of Hsu a day after the meeting at Ntombela’s inauguration following an agreement between the two about a loan guarantee.

OFM News earlier reported Hsu took it to an auction house to have it valued. The auction house was reportedly concerned about the painting’s origins and called in Pierneef experts to try to locate the painting’s true owner.

An image of the painting was used by the auction house in an advert calling for consignments for an upcoming auction.

The court also heard during testimony that an official from the Provincial Department of Public Works, Marius Jansen, saw an email which spoke about the auctioning of the painting and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation or Hawks later became involved in the investigation.

The court also heard that Hsu had requested a letter of confirmation from Mettler which stated that indeed his former boss, Ace Magashule, had gifted him the painting.

Judge Naidoo found Mettler guilty on four charges of theft, fraud, money laundering and perjury, pertaining to an affidavit he made about obtaining the multi-million rand piece of art. Soma found Mettler not-guilty on count five – contravening Section 32(13) of the National Heritage Resources Act.

Mettler’s initial statement read that he was gifted this valuable art piece by Magashule during the move to his new position of ANC Secretary-General. Contrary to the claims, Magashule testified in court and told the judge when he was vacating the Premier’s office, he gave various personal items to different people, including Mettler. He also testified that he did not even know if ‘Pierneef’ was a painting or an actual person.

The state has called a total of 14 witnesses, including his former PA Nomalanga Moroadi Selina Cholota.

Mettler’s sentencing has been postponed to Tuesday 15 December pending a preliminary report which is set to look into the welfare of his family.

LUCKY NKUYANE/OFM News