Conviction in Pretoria Magistrates Court is not strictly about e-tolls

JOHANNESBURG – On Thursday 10 September 2015, Stoyan Hristov Stoychev was convicted and sentenced in the Pretoria Magistrates Court on charges of common fraud, the modus operandi of which was to falsify his number plates, presumably in order to evade camera-based traffic fines, as well as e-tolls. He was not however charged with a single speeding offence.

After reaching a plea agreement with the State, he plead guilty to both, fraud by falsifying his number plates and to violating section 27(5)(a) of the SANRAL Act, and was sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement which reads as follows:

On the charge of fraud (count 1):

·         A fine of R20,000 or 6 months imprisonment, with a further term of 12 months imprisonment suspended for five years; and

·         100 hours community service with the SPCA.

On the charge of violating Section 27 of the SANRAL Act (count 2 to 988 – all counts taken together):

·         A fine of R20,000 or 6 months imprisonment, wholly suspended for five years on the condition that he pays his existing e-tolls bill of R14,873.81 over a period of six months and does not fail to pay e-tolls in future.

Much has been made of Mr Stoychev being “the first victim of e-tolls prosecution”, however this is not strictly in fact the case and it must be clearly understood that what Mr Stoychev did was to falsify his number plates. It is undeniable that the e-tolls component of this particular matter would never have arisen had he not falsified his number plates to start with.

Falsifying number plates is forbidden under the National Road Traffic Act, for obvious reasons and this offence is usually prosecuted as fraud by our courts, as was the case in this matter.

Meanwhile, it is interesting to note that charges of allegedly using false number plates on his vehicle brought against Telkom CEO, Sipho Maseko wherein he allegedly incurred traffic fines to the value of R18,000 were withdrawn against him in the Wynberg Magistrates Court last week. He was not charged for e-tolls evasion.

It is also interesting to note that the case of using the same false number plates on his BMW Z4 and Harley Davidson motorcycle, “BALTY GP”, brought against former TMPD Deputy Chief, Ndumiso Jaca has still not been concluded, 4 years after the fact. 

The fact that Mr Stoychev and his legal team decided to enter into this plea agreement with the State because he was in an undeniably weak position due to falsifying his number plates does not surprise us in the least.

While we fully expect SANRAL to capitalise on this seeming successful prosecution, using their usual smoke and mirrors tactics, it would be not be correct for anyone to assume that Mr Stoychev’s plea agreement and resulting conviction serves to demonstrate that not paying e-tolls while your number plates are genuine and are lawfully displayed will lead to a similar conviction.

Most people do not falsify their number plates and therefore could not be charged with fraud, the absence of which would then leave the matter of not paying e-tolls to be heard if the matter is defended instead of a plea agreement being reached.

JPSA remains of the opinion that non-payment of e-tolls should be prosecuted under the Administrative Adjudication of Road Traffic Offences (AARTO) Act since it is catered for as a non-criminal infringement therein. 

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