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Woman who stole R537m from her employer started stealing six months after she was employed

Hildegard Steenkamp was sentenced at the Johannesburg commercial crimes court sitting in Palm Ridge magistrate's court on Friday.
Hildegard Steenkamp was sentenced at the Johannesburg commercial crimes court sitting in Palm Ridge magistrate's court on Friday.
Image: TimesLIVE/Phathu Luvhengo

An accountant from Boksburg who stole R537m from her employer started looting from the company six months after she was employed.

Hildegard Steenkamp started working at Medtronic (Pty) Ltd in June 2004 and the first transfer of money made to her account was on December 21 2004. 

She started with R24,095, followed by two transactions in January the following year. The frequency gradually started to increase from one transaction per month to three transactions until she got to a point where she confidently took more than R874,000. 

Over the years these transactions increased and her last two transactions transfers were each more than R6m. 

The Johannesburg commercial crimes court, sitting in the Palm Ridge magistrate's court, sentenced Steenkamp to 50 years in prison on Friday.

Earlier this year, Steenkamp pleaded guilty to 336 charges of theft.

Magistrate Phillip Venter said over the years the court had observed a general modus operandi by perpetrators like Steenkamp. 

“The accused is no different except on a much larger scale. The perpetrators usually start with one to two small amounts testing the waters. When they see they are not detected, they repeat this and gradually start increasing the amounts and frequency,” he said.

The court heard Steenkamp earned a gross monthly income of about R30,000/R40,000, or about R420,000 per annum.

Her co-workers observed a change in her lifestyle during 2005 and 2006 and when one of them asked her about it, she explained it was due to her inheritance from her father and a successful business transaction.

Her actions came to light through an anonymous tip-off. When an investigation was conducted, only 174 transactions were initially discovered.

When the criminal case was reported to the police, they subpoenaed the bank statements of Steenkamp and her late husband as far back as 2004.

“This is where they were able to discover a total of 336 transactions. The majority of the money went into her husband's account and about R11m went into the accused's bank account,” said Venter

An analysis of Steenkamp's bank statements indicated she spent the money living a lavish lifestyle with significant expenses overseas.

On one specific day she spent R5m. The highest amount taken in a single month was more than R20m. After the death of her husband, there were two more transactions from Medtronic of more than R6m each.

The court heard that as a bookkeeper, she was in a position of trust, and no doubt abused this trust when she saw she could get away with this.

“When a bookkeeper discovers a loophole, which could prejudice the employer, he/she is supposed to report it so that measures can be put in place to prevent it. Instead, Steenkamp capitalised on it for her own benefit,” said Venter

“To comprehend that one employee stole so much is mind-boggling,” he said. 


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