There was no option of a fine.

The Johannesburg Specialised Commercial Crime Court has sentenced celebrity chef Lusizo Mvula Henna to 10 years in prison for defrauding the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

The 10-year prison sentence comes after Henna was found guilty on six counts of fraud. He got a further six years imprisonment for 14 counts of money laundering. The sentences will run concurrently.

Henna was last month found guilty after submitting a fraudulent R5.3-million VAT claim, of which Sars paid out R3.1 million.

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The state had charged Henna with a serious tax offence, for which a person may be liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period exceeding two years without the option of a fine or to a fine exceeding the equivalent amount of a fine under the adjustment of fines Act 101 of 1991.

Taking advantage of VAT refunds

Henna is the sole member and representative of Blaque Olive Private Chefs CC. He found himself in trouble after submitting six fraudulent VAT refund claims.

Sars paid the refunds into the bank account of Blaque Olive CC.

However, the VAT refund claims were identified for audit and in November 2019, Sars requested supporting documentation from Henna, but he failed to submit any corroborating documents.

The audit findings concluded that the Henna claimed the VAT refunds fraudulently.

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The court found him guilty of unlawfully and with the intention to defraud, giving out and misrepresenting to Sars that the VAT returns represented the trading activities of Blaque Olive CC for the said tax periods and that Blaque Olive CC was entitled to the VAT refund claimed.

Henna laundered more than R3 million within 14 days after Sars deposited the R5.3 million VAT refund into his business account and distributed it to close associates in August 2019.

Evidence in aggravation was presented on behalf of Sars explaining the damage to the fiscus as a result of schemes such as these.

Advocate Marius Oosthuizen, on behalf of the State, submitted that only direct imprisonment would be appropriate as crimes against the fiscus have a detrimental impact on the government’s ability to render services.

It was further submitted that dealing harshly with offenders of schemes like these would improve South Africa’s grey listing status in respect of financial crimes.

He added that it was important for the justice system to send a message to looters of the fiscus that they would be treated harshly.

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