Sentencing Awaits Arsonist Outjo Treasurer

FINANCIAL difficulties triggered the theft that cost the former town treasurer of the Outjo Municipality, Dawid Koen, his job and landed him in the dock in the Windhoek High Court as a man convicted on 62 criminal charges.

After pleading guilty to 60 counts of theft, involving a total of close to N$1,2 million, and charges of arson and defeating or obstructing the course of justice, Koen (54) told Judge Alfred Siboleka on Monday that he started taking money from the municipality because he had difficulties meeting his monthly financial obligations.

He was employed as the strategic executive officer or town treasurer at the time he stole the money.

Koen told the judge, while testifying in mitigation of sentence, that when he first took money from the municipality he thought he would be able to replace it at the end of the month. For the first two or three months he managed to do that, but then he started to lose control of the situation and was not able to replace the money any more.

Two and a half years later, the situation came to a head. With people from the Office of the Auditor General set to visit the municipality to conduct an audit, Koen tried to cover up the theft he had been committing.

On the morning of 17 August 2009 he set fire to the Outjo municipal offices.

“I was very confused. I couldn’t think,” Koen described his mental state at that time to the judge.

After he had started the fire at the office – which was extensively damaged – Koen got into his car and drove away, he said.

“My plan was to commit suicide,” Koen said.

Friends later tracked him down near Otjiwarongo, where they found him sitting in his car, and persuaded him not to carry out his plan. “I wanted to commit suicide, but I probably just didn’t have the guts to do it,” Koen said.

He handed himself over to the police later that day, and then spent seven weeks at a psychotherapeutic centre, where he was being treated for depression and alcohol abuse.

Koen said he had been drinking heavily during the time he committed the theft. He was caught in a vicious cycle his marriage was in trouble and the more he worried about the theft he was committing at the municipality, the more he drank to cope with his situation.

He finally realised that he was bound to be caught out when an audit was to be conducted at the local authority, Koen said.

He claimed he started to take the money to pay his monthly house and car instalments and policy premiums, and to pay for his three children’s education. He added that he did not spend the stolen money on things like luxury goods or expensive holidays.

Koen was initially charged with 112 counts of fraud, alternatively theft, involving a total amount of N$1,74 million, and further charges of arson and defeating or obstructing the course of justice. The fraud or theft was alleged to have been committed during the period from March 2007 to August 2009.

The prosecutor Ed Marondedze, accepted his guilty plea on 60 counts of theft and the charges of arson and defeating or obstructing the course of justice and decided not to proceed with the other 52 counts of fraud, alternatively theft.

A former mayor of Outjo, Paul Gocircagoseb, told the court yesterday that he knew Koen as someone who was down to earth, approachable and humble.

As town treasurer Koen went out of his way to, for instance, accommodate Outjo residents who were in arrears with their water and electricity accounts, Gocircagoseb said. “He was a person for people. He was having a human heart.”

The Koen that he knew was not a criminal, but someone who had made a human error, the former mayor said.

The case has been postponed to 30 May for the hearing of oral arguments from Marondedze and defence counsel Jan Wessels on the sentence to be imposed on Koen. He remains free on bail in the meantime.

Source : The Namibian