A Western Cape man was jailed for seven years on Thursday after fraudulently advertising used army cars on the Internet social network Gumtree. Willem Carstens, 47, who has a civil engineering diploma, will serve five years for 19 counts of fraud. The Bellville Specialised Commercial Crime Court sent him to prison for another two years for money laundering, and for falsely representing himself on Gumtree as an employee of the SA National Defence Force. Defence attorney Haley Lawrence told the court Carstens had started as a freelance second-hand car dealer. He was introduced to Pretoria defence force officer Colonel Jaco Deetlefs, who told him about used army cars that were regularly up for auction.
Carstens would first advertise such a car in a newspaper and, if a buyer responded, he would buy the car himself and re-sell it for a profit to the newspaper buyer. Carstens formed a partnership with motor spares dealer Koos Bothma, who helped to finance the purchase of the army cars. A third man, Werner Erasmus, also joined the venture. Carstens contended it was Erasmus who advertised the army cars for sale on Gumtree – without his knowledge. The Gumtree advertisements generated so much business that there was difficulty in obtaining the army cars from Pretoria, for which Gumtree buyers had already paid. According to Carstens’ plea explanation, Erasmus and Bothma continued with the Gumtree advertising, despite the difficulty in obtaining the cars.
This, Carstens admitted, caused the Gumtree buyers financial losses. Prosecutor Sylvan Africa told the court the police investigation was continuing, against “others involved” in the business. Magistrate Amrith Chabilla said Carstens had been actively engaged in soliciting buyers, and had persuaded them to pay in advance with the false pretence that he himself was in the employ of the SANDF. He said Carstens tried to minimize his role in the business. But the fraud would not have happened without Carstens’ participation, the magistrate concluded. The fraud charges involved more than R1 million. Carstens should have immediately refunded the Gumtree buyers when the problems with delivery started, instead of continuing with the advertisements, Chabilla said.
This article was published on Independent Online on the 29th of April 2010.