Fraud kingpin ducks jail

Hendrick Mphande

WELL-KNOWN Nelson Mandela Bay tavern owner and former boxing promoter Thobile “Toast” Mali, 53, narrowly escaped jail yesterday for his role in a brazen crime syndicate which defrauded the Road Accident Fund of thousands of rands.

Mali, who owns the popular Toast Tavern in Salumntu Street, Kwazakhele, was given a five-year suspended sentence in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court.

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Magistrate Vijay Reddy said she had taken into consideration that Mali was the primary care-giver and legal guardian of the three children of his sister-in-law, who had died in a car crash.

“The court respects children’s rights. Children are vulnerable and need to grow up in a stable home. It won’t be in their best interest to be placed in foster care,” she said.

Mali, who is believed to have been the brains behind the syndicate, was initially charged with 92 counts of fraud but found guilty on 47 counts. Besides the suspended sentence, he also received a three- year correctional supervision sentence.

Reddy also ordered him to perform 16 hours of community service a month, doing general cleaning work at the KwaDwesi Police Station.

Mali was also placed under house arrest, must attend life skills programmes and refrain from drinking alcohol and taking drugs.

Reddy found that Mali, of KwaMagxaki, had worked with other syndicate members when he submitted fraudulent claims amounting to R500000, although the RAF had only paid out R33000.

According to the state, at the time of the offences Mali had worked as a “tout” for a firm of Cleary Park attorneys.

His conviction follows his arrest in September 2004 in a pre-dawn swoop by the now-defunct Scorpions. He was among 12 people apprehended in the Port Elizabeth, Uitenhage and Despatch area.

In the scam, members of the public would be approached by syndicate members, who convinced them to lodge fraudulent claims for fake injuries.

The majority of those convicted received correctional supervision sentences. Bonisile Tom was the only person to be sentenced to five years in prison because he had a conviction for a similar offence.

He was called to testify about how syndicate members approached members of the public to lodge false claims.

Asked why it had taken so long to charge doctors and lawyers for their alleged involvement in the issuing of falsified medical certificates and legal documents to syndicate members, a source close to the investigation said the snag had come about shortly after the Scorpions were disbanded and the dockets handed over to the Hawks.

“We hope this is not the end of the chapter and that the matter will be given serious attention,” said the official, who did not want to be named.

After sentencing yesterday, an emotional Mali said he was grateful and relieved that the matter had finally been laid to rest.

He said his business had been severely affected by the case.

At the time of Mali’s arrest in 2004, the Road Accident Fund’s former chairman, Saths Cooper, said it was being defrauded of R1-billion a year through false claims.

These involved inflated claims and additional vehicle repairs being carried out along with repairs for accident damage.

In the Eastern Cape, 68 people were arrested that year for fraud and 55 were convicted.

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