OF all the wicked money-making plans I’ve ever read involving corrupt cops, Andre Boshoff’s scheme ranks up at the top.

A lieutenant-colonel in the South African Police Services with 24 years service he knew how the system works and how to make it work for him.

First, he registered someone as an informer, with himself as the informer’s handler. Next, he stole firearms from the police and had them planted in or near the homes of innocent people. Once they were in place he claimed to have received information from his informer that the stolen firearms were to be found at a particular home.

Acting on this ‘tip off’ the police searched, found the weapons and arrested the suspect who unsuccessfully protested his or her innocence. Boshoff then claimed the reward due to his ‘informant’ but kept most of it himself and paid over just a fraction of the reward to the ‘informant’ – R15 000 of a R20 000 reward, for example.

Boshoff admitted all the offences including defeating the ends of justice, corruption, fraud and theft. And at the end of the trial the magistrate gave him five years for each of four fraud counts, five years for corruption, three years for each of the offences of defeating the course of justice and incitement to commit a crime and five years for theft of the firearms.

Some of these were to run concurrently and in the end his sentence was an effective seven years.

The state appealed arguing that under the Criminal Law Amendment Act a minimum sentence applied for fraud by a law enforcement office where the amount involved is over R10 000. Boshoff, who was represented by counsel, was made aware of this in his charge sheet and when he pleaded guilty he acknowledged that prescribed minimum sentences were applicable.

The only sentence that could have applied was 15 years. As the magistrate made no mention of the section concerning law officers involved in fraud, the high court in Grahamstown found that the magistrate had erred: the minimum sentence had to be imposed except where there were substantial and compelling reasons not to do so.

Boshoff was a first offender, a highly skilled and effective policeman, with a reputation for dedication and integrity. He had sent his apologies to one of the victims of his crimes – Ntombi Tiba, who had spent four nights in jail after his ‘stolen’ firearms were discovered at her home. He seemed remorseful but on the other hand had also tried to prevent himself being caught by making sure no one else would see the dockets.

What made the case more serious than the usual white-collar crime was Boshoff’s ‘cynical disregard’ for the dire results of his scheme for innocent people.

Judge Clive Plasket said in most cases where firearms are found in the home of someone who later denies all knowledge of them or says they must have been planted by the police, the trial court would reject such a claim saying it couldn’t reasonably possibly be true. Courts would ask why the police would plant firearms in the home of an innocent person, and how the person living in the house didn’t know about the firearms. How else could the firearms have arrived at the house other than via the accused person?

‘The damage that (Boshoff’s conduct) does to the administration of justice is difficult to over-state.’ For his scheme to work, innocent people had to be arrested, and the ‘anxiety and fear’ that his victims felt wasn’t hard to imagine.

Their powerlessness in the face of the might of the state, maliciously working against them, ‘conjures frightening images of arbitrary and capricious power reminiscent of Franz Kafka’s The Trial. People are entitled to believe that the police can be trusted,’ the judge added.

The carefully planned offences were carried out over 10 months during which Boshoff could have reflected on his scheme, but he carried on, motivated simply by greed.

People were sick and tired of ‘widespread corruption’ by state functionaries, said Judge Plasket. They expected, legitimately so, that the courts would take stern action against those who have abused their trust.

Boshoff’s favourable personal circumstances were outweighed by the ‘overwhelming aggravation’ in the case, said the judge, and concluded that the 15 year minimum sentence was not disproportionate to the crime, the offender and the interests of society. He ordered that the lesser sentences run concurrently so that Boshoff’s effective imprisonment would be 15 years.

S v Boshoff