A 56-year-old great-granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi, who was an accused in a six-million rand fraud and forgery case, has been sentenced to seven years in jail by a Durban court.
Ashish Lata Ramgobin was found guilty by the court on Monday.
She was accused of defrauding businessman SR Maharaj after he advanced R6.2 million to her for allegedly clearing import and Customs duties for a non-existent consignment from India. He was promised a share of profits. Lata Ramgobin, who is the daughter of noted rights activists Ela Gandhi and late Mewa Ramgobind, was also refused leave to appeal both the conviction and the sentence by the Durban Specialised Commercial Crime Court.
When the trial in the case against Lata Ramgobin started in 2015, Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had said that 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, Lata Ramgobin was released on a bail of 50,000 rand.
On Monday, the court during the hearing was informed that Lata Ramgobin had met Maharaj, director of the New Africa Alliance Footwear Distributors, in August 2015. The company imports and manufactures and sells clothing, linen, and footwear.
Maharaj’s company also provides finance to other companies on a profit-share basis.
Lata Ramgobin had told Maharaj that she had imported three containers of linen for the 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 (Maharaj) 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 said. Lata Ramgobin “further sent him confirmation from NetCare’s bank account that payment had been made”, Kara said.
Because of Ramgobin’s family credentials and NetCare documents, Maharaj had entered into a written agreement with her for the loan.
However, after Maharaj found out that the documents were forged and NetCare had no arrangements with Lata Ramgobin, he laid criminal charges.
Ramgobin was the 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 descendants of Mahatma Gandhi are human rights activists and among them are Lata Ramgobin’s cousins Kirti Menon, the late Satish Dhupelia, and Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie.
Ramgobin’s mother Ela Gandhi in particular has been internationally recognized for her efforts, including national honours from both India and South Africa.