- A former bodyguard of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule has been found guilty of stealing a Pierneef painting worth around R8 million.
- Ricardo Mettler claimed Magashule gave him the painting as a gift.
- The court found that Mettler knew the painting was valuable and went to great lengths to conceal that it was a state asset.
Ricardo Mettler, a former bodyguard of Ace Magashule, knew he was stealing a valuable Pierneef painting the day he took it, along with personal belongings of Magashule, from the Free State premier’s office in the OR Tambo building in Bloemfontein, Judge Soma Naidoo ruled in the Free State High Court on Thursday.
She ruled that the painting was never a gift from Magashule to him, as Mettler claimed in his plea and to several people after it was discovered at the end of August 2018 that it had been stolen.
Mettler, 43, who had been released on a warning since March this year, is now behind bars after being found guilty of theft, money laundering, fraud and making a false statement to the police by Naidoo on Thursday. He is due to appear in court again on Tuesday for a possible bail application and the submission of a preliminary report by a social worker on his domestic circumstances.
Sentencing proceedings will probably only start next year.
Mettler stole the painting in March 2018 while helping to vacate the office of Magashule, who is now the secretary-general of the ANC.
Naidoo found that Mettler had removed the bar code from the back of the painting – a state asset – and then covered it with brown paper.
READ | Pierneef painting: What you need to know about the theft case of Ace Magashule’s former bodyguard
“I say he had the motive to do so to disguise the marking and avoid questions about it.”
Although he denied knowing the value of the painting, he already knew it was valuable by 27 March 2018, when he offered it as a guarantee to a Chinese businessman from the city, Wei-Lun Hsu, for a loan of between R2 million and R3 million.
Pretended painting was a gift
He used Wei-Lun as a “middleman” to sell the painting and also pretended to him that the painting was a gift.
He used Wei-Lun to try to avoid prosecution. He also typed a letter stating that the painting was a gift and pretended to Wei-Lun that the letter was from the premier’s office. Magashule just had to sign it.
The description of the painting “with a golden frame” was vague enough to give him as much space as possible to manoeuvre, should he have been asked about it, the judge said.
He also made a statement to the police in September 2018 in which he claimed the painting was a gift, while he knew it had already been reported stolen.
ALSO READ | What happened to the Pierneef painting that disappeared from Ace Magashule’s office?
Naidoo said some of the female staff in the premier’s office did not tell the court everything they knew. They “conveniently denied knowledge of certain things” or testified they could not remember.
She said some of them were lax in their duties with the province’s assets.
Naidoo said if it had not been for the mindfulness of Marius Jansen, an architect of the provincial Department of Public Works and an art lover, the provincial government might never have recovered the Pierneef.
Read the original article in Afrikaans here.
Did you know you can comment on this article? Subscribe to News24 and add your voice to the conversation.