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South African woman jailed for 50 years for $28m theft

South African woman jailed for 50 years for $28m theft
Reserve bank governor Gill Marcus displays bank notes bearing the image of former   -  
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Denis Farrell/AP

South Africa

Hildegard Steenkamp, a former accountant at a healthcare company in Gauteng province, South Africa, has been handed a 50-year prison sentence for embezzling $28 million (£23 million) over a 13-year period.

The sentence was delivered on Friday by Magistrate Phillip Venter, who expressed astonishment at the unprecedented scale of the theft.

Steenkamp, who had previously pleaded guilty to 336 counts of fraud, claimed her late abusive husband coerced her into the embezzlement. However, Magistrate Venter dismissed this defense, asserting that she acted alone in perpetrating the extensive financial fraud.

Forensic investigators uncovered that Steenkamp utilized the stolen funds to finance a lavish lifestyle, including extravagant gambling ventures, high-end jewelry acquisitions, and frequent international travel. 

Notably, she spent an astonishing $263,000 in a single night at a casino during one of her spending sprees. The court also learned that Steenkamp indulged in nearly $1.6 million worth of international trips, with frequent visits to Dubai.

Steenkamp, who resigned from her position in 2017, exploited her authorized access to the company's database, allowing her to manipulate creditor information. She added her husband as a creditor, channeling substantial amounts of money into his account.

After surrendering to authorities in 2018 and subsequently being granted bail, Steenkamp finally pleaded guilty earlier this year. The case has drawn attention not only for the magnitude of the embezzlement but also for the audacious nature of the scheme and its long duration.

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