Johannesburg: Ashish Lata Ramgobin, the 56-year-old great-granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa, has been sentenced to seven years in jail by a Durban court in a six-million rand (USD 442,000) fraud and forgery case.
Ramgobin is the daughter of renowned human rights activist Ela Gandhi and late Mewa Ramgobind, who have both played instrumental roles in reviving the Phoenix Settlement established by Gandhi during his tenure in South Africa.
A self-employed mother of two, Ramgobin was found to have defrauded businessman S R Maharaj after he advanced rand 6.2 million to her after she promised a share of large profits, allegedly to clear import and customs duties for a non-existent consignment from India.
Ramgobin was also refused leave to appeal both the conviction and sentence by the Durban Specialised Commercial Crime Court on Monday.
When the case against Ramgobin started in 2015, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) said she allegedly provided forged invoices and documents to convince potential investors that three containers of linen were being shipped in from India.
At that time, Ramgobin was released on bail of rand 50,000 (USD 3,683).
On Monday, the court heard that in August 2015, Ramgobin met Maharaj, director of New Africa Alliance Footwear Distributors, which imports, manufactures and sells clothing, linen and footwear.
Maharaj’s company also provides financing to other companies on a profit-share basis.
Ramgobin had told Maharaj that she had imported three containers of linen for the major South African hospital group NetCare.
She said she was experiencing financial difficulties to pay for import costs and customs and she needed the money to clear the goods at the harbour,” NPA spokesperson Natasha Kara said on Monday.
She advised him that she needed R 6.2 million. To convince him, she showed him what she claimed was a signed purchase order for the goods.
Later that month, she sent him what seemed to be a NetCare invoice and delivery note as proof that the goods were delivered and payment was imminent. She further sent him confirmation from NetCare’s bank account that payment had been made, Kara said.
Because of Ramgobin’s family credentials and the NetCare documents, Maharaj had entered into a written agreement with Ramgobin for the loan.
However, after Maharaj found out that the documents were forgeries and Netcare had no arrangements with Ramgobin, he laid criminal charges.
Ramgobin was once the respected founder and Executive Director of the Participative Development Initiative at the NGO International Centre for Non-Violence, where she described herself as an activist with a focus on environmental, societal and political interests.
A number of other South African descendants of Mahatma Gandhi have gained renown for their efforts in human rights activism over many years, among them Ramgobin’s cousins Kirti Menon, late Satish Dhupelia, and Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie.
Ramgobin’s mother Ela Gandhi in particular has been internationally recognised for her efforts, including national honours from both India and South Africa. -PTI
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