Four-Year Jail Stint for Theft From Church

A FORMER manager of a church-owned conference centre in Windhoek was sent to prison for an effective four years on Friday, having been convicted of stealing more than N$250 000 from a trust fund.

Theft from one’s employer is regarded as a very serious offence by the courts, because it is a crime that undermines the basis on which business depends, which is trust, Magistrate Sarel Jacobs told Mervin Christiaan (34) during his sentencing in the Windhoek Regional Court.

The abuse of an employer’s trust is an aggravating factor in a case such as Christiaan’s, the magistrate said, while noting that Christiaan held a senior position in his employment when the theft he was convicted of was committed.

Christiaan was convicted of eight counts of theft a month ago. He pleaded not guilty to eight charges of fraud, alternatively theft, at the start of his trial in August last year.

He defrauded his employer, the Tabitha Conference Centre, which is owned by a trust of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Republic of Namibia, from February to December 2006 by paying cheques meant for the account of the centre into his brother’s the bank account. In the alternative, Christiaan was charged with having stolen the cheques, which involved a total amount of N$257 473,55, from his employer and from the Ministry of Health and Social Services.

The cheques came from the ministry and were payment for the use of accommodation and conference facilities at the centre.

After Christiaan was convicted on the eight alternative charges of theft, his defence lawyer, Chris Brandt, told the magistrate that according to Christiaan, he deposited the cheques in his brother’s account because he could not get hold of the trustees of the centre in order to have withdrawals from the centre’s own bank account authorised. Brandt further said that according to Christiaan he used the bulk of the money paid into his brother’s account to keep the Tabitha Conference Centre running, Magistrate Jacobs recounted.

The magistrate commented that if that was the case he could not understand why Christiaan did not inform the trustees of the centre of his good intentions. Magistrate Jacobs also noted that Christiaan did not take the opportunity to tell the court about the reason for the theft of the cheques.

Magistrate Jacobs said he was taking into account that the theft was committed over a 10-month period, during which Christiaan had ample time to reconsider his actions. However, he persisted with the theft and his conduct during that time hardly showed any signs of remorse, the magistrate said. It appeared that greed had taken hold of Christiaan, he remarked.

The court was told that Christiaan, who is a first-time offender, is married and is the father of an 11-month-old child. He is the only breadwinner for his family, the court also heard.

As a sole breadwinner Christiaan should have known that he was placing the well-being of his family at risk by committing the theft, the magistrate said.

Magistrate Jacobs sentenced Christiaan to seven years’ imprisonment on the eight counts of theft, with three years of the sentence suspended for four years on condition that Christiaan is not convicted of theft or fraud committed during the period of suspension.

Source : The Namibian