Heart-stopping moment has guilty Pankie in a panic
There was a tense moment when it appeared that convicted fraudster Portia “Pankie” Sizani could be held in custody after magistrate Mputumi Mpofu found her guilty on 15 counts of fraud and nine counts of money laundering.
Sizani, the wife of former ANC chief whip and South Africa’s ambassador to Germany, Stone Sizani, had been out on a warning while the protracted case dragged on.
“I cannot re-release her on warning [because] her status has changed [to that of a convicted fraudster],” Mpofu told the Port Elizabeth Commercial Crimes Court on Friday, stunning Sizani and her legal team, who were all visibly shocked.
Sizani committed what Mpofu said was “well-planned fraudulent activity” when she was the Early Childhood Development district co-ordinator for the education department in the Eastern Cape during 2009 and 2010.
She was found guilty on Friday of having defrauded the department of more than R1.2m during that time.
“It’s not something that is unheard of when someone is convicted, for the court to decide not to release them on warning or to revoke bail,” Mpofu said.
Sizani appeared restless in the dock as she listened to the magistrate.
Sizani’s lawyer, advocate Johan Wessels, argued that his client was not a flight risk and that she had been diligently attending court proceedings.
“She has been out on warning all along and we are asking the court to extend that warning,” Wessels said.
Prosecutor Ronel Brink also said the state would not be opposing bail or Sizani’s release on warning.
“It’s just always important that the court makes an informed decision . . . that will be in the interest of all the people involved, including the accused,” Mpofu said.
He set bail at R5,000 before postponing the matter until July 1 for the start of sentencing proceedings.
Sizani appeared relieved. She told journalists she was happy she would be released on bail and that she would not be kept in custody. “But the law must take its course,” she said before she referred further questions to her legal team.
Mpofu said the state had proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt in all of the charges for which Sizani was found guilty.
The court found that between 2009 and 2010, while working for the education department, Sizani siphoned off more than R1.2m after she created “ghost teachers” and pocketed their salaries.
Mpofu said Sizani had used the witnesses (those who testified that their particulars had been used to create the “ghost teachers”) in the case as “vending machines” to defraud the department.
As co-ordinator, Sizani was in charge of appointing grade R teachers at Eastern Cape schools.
According to the state, Sizani obtained the personal details of teachers, applied for posts on their behalf and falsified signatures for their approval.
Once the money was paid by the department into the teachers’ accounts, Sizani would then inform them that a mistake had been made and that the money should be paid back to her.
On Friday, Mpofu said none of the witnesses had signed assumption-of-duty forms with the department of education, “so there was no justification for the money to be paid into their bank accounts”.
The magistrate said he also found the witnesses to have been honest and reliable.
“She used her position to take advantage of desperate people,” Mpofu said.