After two years on the run and a stint on the bench, the gavel finally came down on a disgraced acting magistrate who was sentenced to an effective six years in prison, writes Kathryn Kimberley
With her actions described as “morally reprehensible”, the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court said Pumla Silinga, the estranged wife of Coega Development Corporation chief executive Pepi Silinga, had displayed a lack of remorse throughout her court case.
Silinga, 47, of Walmer, was convicted last month of stealing about R95 000 from a client’s trust account between July and September 2007, while attending to the transfer of a property.
She was at the time the director of Silinga Attorneys in Port Elizabeth.
The money was to be held in trust until the transfer had been completed and registered, and the money paid to the seller.
However, Silinga drew cheques from the account, slowly depleting the funds.
She was arrested in November 2013.
A warrant was issued for her arrest when she failed to appear in court in February 2014.
She was tracked down by police in April this year, when she was found to be acting as a magistrate in Mthatha despite being struck from the Cape Law Society’s roll of attorneys.
Silinga ultimately pleaded guilty to the theft count and a count of contempt of court for failing to turn up for her trial.
She said she had needed the cash to pay for her ailing mother’s hospital bills and always intended paying it back.
But, in giving her another chance on April 14, magistrate Hannes Claassen opted to release Silinga on warning.
However, Silinga, who was then suspended from her position on the bench, went on the run once again.
She was eventually traced through her cellphone earlier this month to a relative’s home in Mthatha.
Claassen, in sentencing her yesterday, said her actions of absconding from court not once, but twice, were indicative of a person with no remorse.
“And of an attorney or person involved in the law, this is morally reprehensible,” he said.
In mitigation of sentence yesterday, Legal Aid defence advocate Motsamai Marele said Pepi Silinga and another family member had now offered to reimburse the victim.
Silinga had earlier told the court that her estranged husband and father of her children had cut her off financially.
State advocate Bongo Mvinjelwa said paying back the money at this late stage could not be seen as a mitigating factor.
Claassen, agreeing, sentenced Silinga to eight years in prison, of which two years were suspended.