Churchman’s age saves him from tax-fraud sentence

A PORT Elizabeth pastor’s advanced age came in handy yesterday when the court decided not to sentence him and instead gave him a slap on the wrist for defrauding the taxman.

While magistrate Louis Claassen had some harsh words for the Reverend Peter Twynham, 81, of the Port Elizabeth Tabernacle in Sanctor, he opted to suspend his sentence for a period of five years.

The Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court was packed to capacity with members of the split congregation as Twynham, of Aspen Heights, was convicted in a two-hour long judgment.

He was found guilty of defrauding the SA Revenue Services (SARS) of R375 000 by under-declaring his income between 2004 and 2012.

Lawyer Danie Gouws said he had already received instructions to appeal against the conviction.

While Twynham insisted he had nothing more than a Grade 4 education and therefore asked another church member to submit taxes on his behalf, Claassen said yesterday the court did not buy his act of being “a helpless infant”.

Twynham was initially charged with theft after members of the church where he had served since 1978 claimed he had dipped into the church’s coffers to line his pockets with R1.4-million.

The Director of Public Prosecutions later withdrew that charge after Gouws submitted written representations.

He said at the root of the matter was a struggle within the church to change its governance structure and unseat Twynham. The charge of tax fraud remained. The allegations led to a split in the popular northern areas church, once again evident yesterday as one group tried to support Twynham while the other celebrated his conviction.

One faction now worships under Twynham in Sanctor, the other at Dower College.

“It is always a sad day when a court has to deal with members of a church . . . seeing close friends and congregants, now split, testify against each other,” Claassen said.

He said he had two completely different versions before him and both could not be true.

Twynham claimed his taxes were handled by church board member Quintin Isaacs, who later turned state witness.

Claassen said he found Isaacs to be a truthful witness and accordingly indemnified him from prosecution.

During trial, the court heard how in March 2003 the church had been registered with SARS as a public benefit organisation (PBO) and accordingly received tax exemptions.

Twynham and senior church members Isaacs and Harry van Rooyen were registered as fiduciary officers.

However, Twynham dealt with the funds at all times, which included ensuring funds were available for church projects, paying bills, drawing a monthly salary and then depositing the surplus into the church’s bank account.

By applying to be registered as a PBO, SARS understood that the funds received were to be used only for the benefit of the church and its general members.

But between 2004 and 2011, Twynham failed to provide financial reports to church members. He had only occasionally jotted down the expenditure in booklets he kept for his own record.

An internal investigation was then launched in June 2012, after Twynham confessed to church board members that he had underpaid the taxman.

Later, in court, Twynham conceded to an under-declaration of his personal income, but said at no time had he acted with the intent to commit fraud.

He said he had nothing more than a Grade 4 education with little computer skills and had to rely on others for help.

He also made a corrective payment of R375 000 to SARS, something which was taken into consideration yesterday.

“The court was impressed with all state witnesses. They didn’t seem to harbour any resentment. It is important to look at how the charges came to light. There was no bad blood,” Claassen said.

“It is patently clear Isaacs was not responsible for the accused’s taxes.

“The accused contradicted himself and contradicted his instruction to his advocate [Charl van Rooyen]. He did not impress as a witness.

“He abused the church’s contributions like his own piggy bank.”

Claassen then enforced a confiscation order, made by agreement between the Asset Forfeiture Unit’s advocate, Warren Myburgh, and the defence, for Twynham to pay curator fees of nearly R63 000 within 14 days.

State advocate Ronelle Brink said the prosecution would ask for a suspended sentence and Claassen agreed, saying in view of the accused’s age and exemplary life he would suspend sentencing for five years.

This story appeared in Weekend Post on Saturday, 5 December, 2015

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