Former ANC top dog John Block heading for prison after final appeal dismissed

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ANC Northern Cape chairman John Block appears in the Kimberley High Court on October 14, 2015 in Kimberley, South Africa. John Block along with his co-accused, Scholtz and Botes are accused of fraud, corruption and money laundering. Botes was acquitted of all chargers while Block and Scholtz were found guilty of money laundry and corruption. (Photo by Gallo / Beeld / Emile Hendriks)

On Monday, the Constitutional Court dismissed former Northern Cape ANC chairperson John Block and businessman Christo Scholtz’s application for leave to appeal their conviction and sentence.

The two were convicted and sentenced in 2016 by the High Court in Kimberley to 15 years in prison for corruption and money laundering.

Block, also a former Northern Cape finance MEC, first lost his appeal in the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein in August.

He, along with the CEO of the Trifecta group of companies, Scholtz, and several companies in which they had interests, were found guilty of involvement in 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.

Following his guilty verdict, Block resigned as the Northern Cape ANC chairperson and finance MEC.

A forfeiture order of R2 million was made against Block, while an order of R53 million was made against Scholtz and Trifecta.

The court in its judgment found 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.

The SCA said the court had “exhaustively analysed 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 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 Constitutional Court on Monday also found that there were no reasonable prospects for Block and Scholtz’s application to succeed.

The provincial ANC expressed sadness at the news. National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Phaladi Shuping said a detention order would be issued for the two to hand themselves over to correctional services within the next week.

“From our side as the NPA we are satisfied with the decision of the Constitutional Court because, from the onset, we were of the view that there’s no court that would come to a different conclusion. All the reasons that they provided in their application to the Supreme Court to the Constitutional Court were dealt with in the Northern Cape High Court.”

The DA in the province said in a statement that justice had finally been served.

“John Block was a frontrunner in the massive decline that has taken over the Northern Cape provincial government,” said premier candidate Andrew Louw.

“The DA has been very vocal on Block’s wheelings and dealings in government over the years that have especially impacted on health services and job-creating opportunities in the province.

“In fact, the DA made numerous pleas to Premier Sylvia Lucas to remove John Block from her cabinet,” added Louw.

“The DA hopes that Block’s self-inflicted punishment will be a lesson to Sylvia Lucas, who allowed him to play the system, and to all those who continue to play the system, that crime simply doesn’t pay.

“While the DA welcomes the court’s decision, it must also be noted that prison time for John Block won’t save the Northern Cape. Within the failing ANC, there are too many like Block who still fill senior government positions and high-profile political positions, through which the looting of the state continues.”

(Compiled by Charles Cilliers)

The Citizen