The former driver of Ace Magashule, Ricardo Mettler, has been sentenced to an effective 15-year jail sentence by a High Court judge in Bloemfontein on Wednesday morning.
OFM News reports that Judge Soma Naidoo says Mettler’s failure to take the witness stand to place his version of events before the court did not draw confidence from the court. She says Mettler, despite the court’s findings, continues to disrespect the evidence presented in court, showed no remorse, and failed to take responsibility.
Judge Naidoo says Mettler, as the bodyguard of the former Free State premier, used his position of power and trust to steal the Pierneef painting and this has damaged the image of the premier’s office. Naidoo says his actions create an impression that people in power could simply help themselves to state resources.
Mettler was found guilty in 2020 on four counts – including theft, fraud, money laundering and perjury.
Judge Naidoo handed down a 15-year prison sentence for theft, 15 years for money laundering, 15 years for fraud and 12 years for perjury. Counts 2 and 4 are set to run concurrently. Judge Naidoo accused Mettler of continuing to lie about his family affairs, creating a certain impression.
It’s been said that he stole the Pierneef painting with the intention of selling it to a Bloemfontein businessman – Wei-Lin Hsu – for more than R2 million. He was charged with theft, fraud, money laundering and perjury, pertaining to an affidavit he made about obtaining the multi-million rand piece of art. He was ordered to appear in court in 2019 after the painting was seized by the Hawks.
Mettler’s defence advocate, Jacques Potgieter, had pleaded with Judge Naidoo for a lenient sentence citing that the painting was retrieved and Mettler did not benefit financially from this crime. The state prosecutor, Antoinette Ferreira, however, indicated that there were no compelling circumstances to deviate from the prescribed sentence of 15 years in prison. Ferreira added that Mettler’s actions were influenced by pure greed and that he was only after the money.
Two pre-sentencing reports have been presented in court thus far, which looked into Mettler’s affairs. A pre-sentencing report by probation officer Zandile Nxumalo painted Mettler as not remorseful. Nxumalo’s report indicated Mettler was not a changed man, or even willing to change, and this would not assist in the rehabilitation process. She also reported that he does not accept responsibility for the crime.
During the presentation of aggravating factors in the matter last week, Ferreira indicated that the Director-General at the Office of the Premier, Kopung Ralikontsane, previously testified during the trial that the Office of the Premier reached out to Mettler and asked that he bring back the stolen painting but the latter failed to do so.
She said instead, Mettler, who stole the painting via a backdoor from the offices of the premier, went further and asked for over R100 000 from the Premier’s Office.
The court previously also heard, during testimony, that the Provincial Department of Public Works’ Marius Jansen noticed an email that detailed the auctioning of the painting and the Hawks were later informed about the alleged crime.