Former Freestate premier Ace Magashule’s ex-bodyguard has been sentenced in the Bloemfontein High Court for the theft of an R8 million Pierneef painting.
National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) regional spokesperson Phaladi Shuping said in a statement on Wednesday that Magashule’s former bodyguard, Ricardo Mettler, had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for theft of the painting. He was found guilty on four charges related to the theft of the artwork.
Judge Soma Naidoo sentenced Mettler to 15 years for stealing a Pierneef painting from the Office of the Premier. He was also sentenced to another 15 years for money laundering for offering the painting to a Chinese businessman as a guarantee for loan.
“The court added another 15 years for fraud. He pretended that the painting was donated to him by Ace Magashule, and that it legally belonged to him,” Shuping said.
In addition, Judge Naidoo sentenced Mettler to 12 months for making a false statement to the police, in which he had claimed that Magashule gave him the painting.
Ace Magashule office vacated
Mettler stole the painting in March 2018 while he was helping to clear Ace Magashule’s office. He removed the barcode and covered it with brown paper. He then offered the painting to Wei-Lun Hsu, for a loan of between R2 million and R3 million.
Hsu published a photograph of the painting in a local newspaper to check whether anyone would lay claim to it.
“A senior official from the Department of Public Works recognised the painting and contacted Mettler requesting that he return it. Mettler refused and a charge of theft was laid against him,” Shuping said.
State Prosecutor, Advocate Antoinette Ferreira, said Mettler knew he was stealing a valuable painting the day he took it from the Premier’s Office.
“The accused had a motive when he wanted to disguise the marking. He knew the painting was valuable in March 2018 when he wanted to offer it Hsu as a guarantee,” Ferreira said.
“He was twice requested to return the painting but he refused. He was motivated by greed. He abused his position of trust and there is a public outcry from the community about public officials who think they are entitled to government resources.”
Ace Magashule’s former bodyguard will effectively serve 15 years imprisonment after the court ordered the sentences to run concurrently.