Lotto justice served after 6-year trial

Cecil Motsepe

Cecil Motsepe

Six years ago businessman Lazarus Letswalo saw an opportunity to get rich quickly by trying to cash in another man's R5 million winning Lotto ticket.

Yesterday a Johannesburg magistrate told him: "You tried to defraud a poor man, an illiterate man."

Letswalo faces the possibility of spending 15 years in prison after being found guilty of fraud and theft.

He has been on trial for trying to cash the R5million ticket belonging to Andrew Phoshoko, a former farm worker from Tzaneen in Limpopo.

But yesterday the 51-year-old cringed as magistrate Z Machobane said: "The court rejects the evidence of the accused that the ticket belonged to him."

Letswalo was arrested in November 2002 when he went to cash in the Lotto ticket he took from Phoshoko, saying he was going to verify the winning numbers.

Officials at Uthingo, the defunct national lottery operator, noticed that names on the back of the ticket had been tampered with.

The suspicious officials told Letswalo to produce the rightful owner of the ticket before they would pay him out.

When Letswalo was arrested Uthingo gave Phoshoko his R5 million.

During the marathon trial Phoshoko testified that Letswalo had bribed him with ice cream and food before making off with the winning ticket.

But Letswalo maintained he had sent Phoshoko to take out a ticket for him after dreaming about the winning numbers.

Machobane observed during yesterday's judgment that Letswalo was a lone witness whose evidence was riddled with inconsistencies.

He found that Letswalo, who had a diploma from Unisa, took advantage of Phoshoko's "stupidity" and "illiteracy".

"The court finds that the state has successfully proved that the accused intended to defraud the complainant and he is found guilty as charged."

State prosecutor Flora Maila insisted that Letswalo's bail be withdrawn pending sentencing in December.

Maila was reacting to a submission by the defence that Letswalo's bail be extended since he was due to start writing his Unisa exams.

But Maila objected: '"There is no reason why he can't write his exams from prison."

Maila also produced 69 police records showing that Letswalo had been previously convicted of theft and housebreaking.

Phoshoko has used R2 million of his winnings to open a bottlestore in Tzaneen and a chicken farm. He invested R3 million