A South African High Court in Gauteng, Johannesburg, has reversed an eight-year jail term served on a Nigerian businessman, Ajay Shola, in a trial as far back as October 2010.
The acting Judge of the court, N.C. Sethusha, gave the ruling, noting that Shola’s appeal is upheld and his conviction is “accordingly set aside.”
The Nigerian businessman had been sentenced to eight years in prison over a business fraud claim in October 2010, and his lawyer had said they would appeal against the judgment, saying the judge got involved in the case in “an emotional manner.”
Ajay’s lawyers had told SaharaReporters then that the company that first filed the case tendered it at a commercial court where Judge Louw was presiding before his move to the magistrate court.
They had also expressed fear that the ruling was because the company in dispute had ties with former South African present, Thabo Mbeki.
Ruling on the appeal filed by Shola’s lawyers during the week, the South African judge, Sethusha, set aside the judgment after 11 years in court.
The judge said, “This is an appeal against both conviction and sentence imposed by the Regional Court Division, Johannesburg. The appellant was convicted on a charge of fraud, and sentenced to eight (8) years imprisonment. The appellant approaches this court on appeal with leave from the court a quo. Mr. Bauer appeared for the appellant whilst Mr. Chauke appeared for the state.
“This court has to determine, as a court of appeal, whether the appellant was correctly convicted, and or, was there the presence of irregularity arising from the jurisdiction. This court has to consider whether the sentence was just.
“The state called three witnesses namely Chantel Sterkboom, the manager of Endemol (pty) Ltd, her husband Mr. Martin Nielson, and Mr. Mbeki, the executive chair of Endemol. On the other hand, the appellant called Mr. Wolmerans and Mr. Okereke. Mr. Okereke’s testimony was pro non scripto as he left for Nigeria and never came back to finalise his testimony.
“Considering a number of holes in the state’s case even if it is viewed on its own, as if the appellant had no version or defence at all, the state did not succeed in proving its case according to the required standard.
“Accordingly, I am of the view that the appeal should succeed and the conviction is accordingly set aside. In the premise, I propose the following order: The appeal is upheld. The conviction and sentence are set aside.”