Magistrate career down the drain for N$5 500
15 July 2019 | Justice
Melaney Theron has thrown her promising career as a magistrate down the drain for a mere N$5 500.
Last Thursday, Judge Nate Ndauendapo found the former Oshakati traffic court magistrate guilty on 16 of 18 counts of corruption and defeating or obstructing the course of justice. According to the judge’s flynote, Theron was accused of, amongst others, falsifying court records, corruptly accepting gratification, withdrawing charges against accused persons without any legal basis and fraudulently concealing her offences.
Theron was acquitted on two of the charges, that of defeating or obstructing the course of justice and another of corruptly using a position to obtain gratification. The offences were committed from May to mid-August 2011. They involve six payments, totalling N$5 500 made to Theron.
Essentially, what Theron did was to solicit payment in cash from drivers issued with traffic fines, and then either withdraw their cases ‘in court’ or issue a warning, or cancel warrants of arrest. Court records in this regard were falsified by Theron. In all of the individual matters mentioned in the charges, none of the offenders actually appeared in court. They had paid Theron in cash and had not received a receipt for their payments.
In August 2011, two members of the police, a Sergeant Mwinga and Inspector Namweya were “tasked to conduct an operation in Oshakati about a magistrate who was soliciting bribes from traffic offenders”.
A blank traffic ticket was obtained and filled in. “The offender was Pomweye Absalom, the fine was N$2 000, the date of trial 15 August 2011 and the date of issuance 2 July 2011. The offence was driving without professional authorisation.”
The cellphone number on the ticket was correct.
According to testimony in court, Inspector Namweya received a call at around 15:00 on the afternoon of the same day the ticket was sent to be processed. According to court records, Theron identified who she was and told him “you are having a traffic ticket that you need to be at court for and the fine is N$2 000”.
She told him if he paid the ticket before 16:00 on the same day, she would give him a discount of N$1 000, and if he pays the next day, he will have to pay N$1 500.
He was warned that if he did not “turn up”, she would issue a warrant of arrest and he would be arrested and detained.
“He was directed to go and pay at office number eight at the court,” the judge said.
Mwinga was tasked by the police team to go and pay the fine of N$1 000, acting as Pomweye Absalom.
Theron had often issued ‘discounts’ for immediate payments, and they agreed he would act as though he could only speak Oshiwambo.
Copies were made of the N$200 notes used to pay the fine, which they had received from Windhoek as “operation money”. He went into Theron’s office and paid her the money. Following this payment, the police entered Theron’s office and demanded the money paid by ‘Absalom’.
“She took the money from underneath a paper and she was shivering and afraid. The money was the same as that of which they had made copies. She was arrested.”
Theron had pleaded not guilty to all the charges and affirmed that court appearances had indeed taken place. She also, in respect of some of the charges, said the tickets were defective.
She denied receiving any money and asked the State to prove the allegations.
According to the judge, “she denied having received N$1 000 from Sergeant Mwinga (acting as Absalom). She testified that Sergeant Mwinga came in her office and said something in Oshiwambo, which she could not understand. She told him to get an interpreter and he left the money and the ticket on her desk.” She also denied making any telephone calls, although phone records proved the contrary, and said she had signed the document the police gave her when they came into her office because “she was intimidated by the presence of the three police officers”.
During her defence, Theron maintained that the court appearances by the traffic offenders had indeed occurred, even though the parties had denied they ever appeared before her.
Theron had, at one point, told the court that “someone” had appeared before her, adding that it was neither “her duty nor the practice, to confirm the identity of the appearer”.
“Why would somebody else appear on behalf of the offender and pay a fine or face a jail term for an offence he or she did not commit? That is absurd,” the judge said.
Theron will be sentenced on 19 August.
She represented herself, following the departure of her counsel Garth Joseph towards the end of the trial. The State was represented by Simba Nduna.