A criminal career spanning decades was finally derailed when “Oom” Dries Marais was found guilty in the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court yesterday of stealing railway tracks worth R2.7-million.
Marais, 77, however, will only hear his fate on April 12 when sentence will be handed down.
Sentencing was postponed so a correctional supervision report can be drawn up.
Yesterday, a frail and tired-looking Marais was convicted on nine charges including fraud, forgery, theft and attempting to defeat the ends of justice.
His conviction is a result of an elaborate scheme in which he stole railway tracks and sleepers in the Steynsburg area.
To do this, he forged a letter from Transnet stating he had permission to remove the goods and then hired companies to dismantle, lift and transport the material to the Western Cape.
Marais, who conducted his own defence during the trial, yesterday appeared alongside his co-accused, Transnet security guard Bhuyekiso Damane, 52, who was convicted on seven counts, including forgery.
Damane, who was stationed in Queenstown, was accused of helping forge the letter of permission to remove the tracks and sleepers.
The offences were committed between July and September 2008, with the scam coming to light when a truck transporting railway tracks and sleepers was stopped en route.
The driver showed police the letter giving Marais permission to transport the goods and he was allowed to continue on his way.
But, sometime later, lawyers for Transnet wrote to Marais asking him to stop.
Marais instructed his lawyers to respond, sending them a fictitious letter saying what he was doing was legal.
The railway track heist was not, however, Marais’s first brush with the law. He is currently serving an eight-year sentence in Belville.
According to a report in The Herald in 2004, Marais first caught the public eye in 1976 when a finance company director obtained an interdict against him for allegedly repeatedly threatening to kill him.
This came after the company tried to repossess 10 tip trucks.
Later that year, Marais allegedly ordered workers to “clean” the vehicles with diesel and “accidentally” set them alight.
Marais was initially convicted of malicious damage to property, but this was later set aside and he was found guilty of defeating the ends of justice.
In 1980, he was sentenced to five years for charges arising from the collapse of his construction company.
In 1993, Bay businessman Adrian Gardiner obtained an interdict against Marais following death and mutilation threats.
The following year, Marais was to be rearrested for breaching the interdict but escaped and spent five months on the run before his arrest.
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