Boesak gets six years in jail for charity fraud

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A LAST-MINUTE plea for clemency by Archbishop Desmond Tutu was not enough to save Allan Boesak, one of the heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle, from being sentenced yesterday to a six-year jail term for fraud and theft.

Boesak, 53, the former head of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, fought back tears in Cape Town High Court as Judge John Foxcroft delivered sentence. Last week, the court found the former church minister guilty of taking 1.3 million rands given by the singer-songwriter Paul Simon and the Swedish aid organisation Sida to Boesak's Foundation for Peace and Justice.

"My innocence is not touched in one way or another by the conviction of this court," said Boesak as he left court with his wife, Elna, and son, Allan Jr.

Boesak will remain free for 21 days while his lawyer, Mike Maritz, fights for an appeal. Judge Foxcroft turned down the initial application yesterday.

"The last word is not spoken. The same god that has carried me this far will carry me further," he said to cheers from supporters outside the court.

The trial, which dragged on for most of last year due to arguments over legal aid, heard that Boesak had acquired a taste for luxury during the late Eighties, leading him to abuse his high moral standing.

Boesak, whose Foundation for Peace and Justice (FPJ) was set up, in part, to help orphans and other child victims of the struggle, gained fame as a charismatic speaker.

In the days of "struggle bookkeeping" - when funds and their donors had to be concealed from the authorities - Boesak was able to attract large foreign contributions, including from Sida and Simon.

The singer gave the FPJ 682,000 rands (then pounds 130,000) from his 1987 Graceland album, famous because it was recorded in South Africa in breach, some claimed, of a United Nations cultural boycott of the apartheid regime.

The court heard that Boesak gave only 423,000 rands to the FPJ, keeping the balance for himself - which helped him to buy two houses in white Cape Town suburbs.

Despite the court evidence, many South Africans refuse to accept Boesak's guilt or wished the court to show clemency. Archbishop Tutu, on a university fellowship in the United States, made an appeal by fax to Judge Foxcroft on Tuesday.

In the letter, written after last week's conviction, Archbishop Tutu said: "His contribution to the country and its people outweighs overwhelmingly the consequences of those actions of which he has been convicted."

Judge Foxcroft conceded yesterday that Boesak "played an important part in ridding South Africa of the hated system of apartheid", but said a lenient sentence would mean "the administration of justice could fall into disrepute".

n Wouter Basson, the South African scientist who led the apartheid era's chemical and biological warfare programme, will stand trial on 4 October on a range of charges, including murder, fraud and theft.

The trial of Mr Basson, whose appearances at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission revealed he also worked on British and American programmes, is expected to last two years.