A former licensing station chief, accused of masterminding a fake license racket, has been acquitted in the Eshowe Regional Court, along with some of those who were alleged to be involved in the syndicate. The prosecution is our zero for this week for failing to deliver a good enough case to secure a conviction.
Richie Mark Heslop and his co-accused first appeared in court in July 2013, and this week the magistrate presiding over the case chided the state prosecution for failing to prove its case of collusion against the group, before throwing the case out.
Heslop managed the Mandeni licensing office at the time of his arrest and faced charges that included racketeering, corruption and fraud. The state believed that he colluded with traffic officials, clerks from his office and driving school operators to issue out fake licenses to undeserving candidates.
The group was charged under the Prevention of Organised Crime Act of 1998, which introduced measures to combat organised crime, money laundering and gang activities, according to IOL. The state could not, however, prove that the accused acted together, the magistrate said, adding there was no evidence that the individual accused knew of each other’s actions.
IOL reported this week that all 20 could have faced a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for the racketeering charge. Magistrate Anand Maharaj mentioned several factors that led to his decision to dismiss the case against Heslop. One of these was that only one witness out of over 40 identified Heslop, but she had told the court that she had made her statement under threat.
Furthermore, several witnesses also recanted parts of their statements, citing threat of arrest as the reason for having given the original statements. “Our legal system does not allow that statements made under duress can be admitted as evidence,” Maharaj said.
Licensing and traffic departments are second only to the police service on the list of government services or departments perceived to be the most corrupt by South African youth. This emerged from the recent survey conducted by Corruption Watch.