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Diamond man’s appeal rejected

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Viljoen had bought unpolished diamonds from Inspector Leon Ferris, a police trap, on three occasions at Scotia Inn, a hotel in Port Nolloth that was owned by Viljoen

File picture: Reuters

THE SUPREME Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by a Northern Cape man who was sentenced to direct imprisonment for purchasing unpolished diamonds.

The accused, Nico Viljoen, was convicted in the Port Nolloth Regional Court in August 2009 on three counts of purchasing three unpolished diamonds, valued at a total of R76 900.

He was sentenced to three years’ direct imprisonment; and a fine of R160 000 or three years’ imprisonment, wholly suspended for a period of four years on condition that he was not found guilty of a contravention of the Diamonds Act committed during the period of suspension.

He appealed against the conviction but this was dismissed in the Northern Cape High Court. However, his appeal against sentence resulted in a reduction of the sentence of three years’ direct imprisonment to 12 months’ direct imprisonment.

In June 2012, Viljoen was granted leave to appeal to the Appeal Court of South Africa.

His arrest came in the wake of a police project, Operation 2018, which was launched in May 2004 to stem the illicit trade in unpolished diamonds in the Western Cape, Gauteng and the Northern Cape.

The operation made use of traps and undercover operations and when it was terminated in September 2006, 31 unpolished State diamonds valued at around R600 000 had been sold to identified suspects and 17 persons had been arrested, including Viljoen.

Viljoen had bought unpolished diamonds from Inspector Leon Ferris, a police trap, on three occasions at Scotia Inn, a hotel in Port Nolloth that was owned by Viljoen. The sales were digitally recorded on audio-visual equipment.

Appeal Court Judge Ashton Schippers pointed out that, based on the evidence, direct imprisonment was the only appropriate sentence, stating that “illicit diamond transactions remained serious offences in the Northern Cape, and it is extremely difficult to apprehend offenders”.

“That conclusion and the resultant sentence cannot be faulted.”

As a result, the appeal was dismissed in a judgment handed down last week.