JUDICIARY IN CRISIS
Call for Free State High Court judge facing charges of theft and money laundering to step down
NGO Judges Matter has called for a Free State High Court judge who faces charges of theft and money laundering in the Specialised Commercial Crimes Court to step down 'immediately' until a court has ruled on the matter.
The case stems from a Road Accident Fund (RAF) claim, made on behalf a six-year-old child, while the judge was still practising as an attorney.
On Friday, 17 February, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), reported that a judge, whom it did not name, had been summonsed to appear in the Kroonstad Specialised Commercial Crime Court on charges of theft, money laundering and contempt of court.
The investigation stems from a Road Accident Fund (RAF) claim made while the judge was still practising as an attorney. The claim was made on behalf a six-year-old child involved in an accident in 2000.
According to the DPCI, the judge “had handed over the client’s file with an amount of R1,255,000 to another attorney, upon taking up an appointment as a judge”.
Judges Matter, a civil society organisation that monitors the judiciary in South Africa, said at the weekend that it was “deeply shocked and very concerned at this turn of events”.
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Alison Tilley, Judges Matter coordinator, said that “while the judge is innocent until proven guilty by criminal law standards, he is bound by the judicial code of ethics, which requires judges to always behave honourably and in a manner befitting judicial office”.
Being named in serious criminal charges “brings the judiciary into disrepute, and is not compatible with the office of a judge. We call for his stepping aside until these charges are resolved,” Tilley said.
According to the Hawks, “the current High Court sitting judge will make his first court appearance on 9 March”.
The victim’s mother had reported the case, and further investigation by the Hawks’ Serious Commercial Crime Investigation unit revealed that the RAF had paid out an amount of R 3,142,089.70.
“The alleged action by the attorneys prejudiced the victim’s funds surpassing R2,5-million,” the Hawks said.
Lieutenant-General Godfrey Lebeya, the head of the Hawks, applauded the investigation team saying, “we will not leave any stone unturned in protecting the rights of vulnerable persons”.
Inquiries to the Office of the Chief Justice with regard to the sitting judge were unanswered at the time of writing. This story will be updated as soon as we receive a response. DM