Below is a judge’s summary on Zimbabwean man, John Zvimba who pleaded guilty to defrauding a hospital in Darwin. This first story was published on ZimEye last month:
John Zvimba, you have pleaded guilty to obtaining a benefit for
yourself or another person, the maximum penalty for which is imprisonment for
14 years given the amount involved.
I am going to talk about what happened and I am only going to summarise it. I
am not going to read out the very lengthy Crown facts.
What happened is this; you and your co-offender, Walter Wilton, unlawfully
obtained $148,031.63 from the Northern Territory Government by deception.
This is what you did; you and Walter Wilton are both qualified electricians
registered with the Electrical Workers and Contractors Licensing Board in the
Northern Territory. From 2 March 2015 to 24 April 2017 you were employed as a
technical services officer with the engineering department at the Royal Darwin
The engineering department is responsible for overseeing electrical, mechanical,
civil and hydraulic repairs and maintenance work at the Royal Darwin Hospital. They
do this by way of a tender process. Three year contracts for the works in those
areas are awarded through a formal government procurement process by way of
The successful tenderers are authorised to perform works at the Royal Darwin
Hospital and verbal approval needs to be obtained for the use of any other
contractors. That approval needs to be obtained from the engineering services
manager who was a Mr Neil Bond at the time.
Your role included general supervision of the electrical trades, raising work
orders in the building management system and inspecting and reviewing contractor
invoices and supporting documentation submitted to the Northern Territory
governments accounts payable Electronic Invoice Management System which is
referred to as EIMS. This is the way that the system for awarding contracts and
paying contractors for work performed is intended to operate.
Firstly, before becoming an approved contractor, each tenderer must undergo a
process of induction and introduction to the Royal Darwin Hospital site to qualify
them to enter and perform works on the site. This process is documented and
recorded in the Building Management System. Then each approved contractor is
added into the Building Management System as a vendor and assigned a vendor
code in that computerised system.
When electrical work needed to be done at Royal Darwin Hospital you or another
authorised person would raise a work order and send it to an approved contractor.
The approved contractor would do the work and submit an invoice to the Northern
Territory Government accounts payable section for payment accompanied by the
prescribed and necessary supporting documentation.
On receipt of the invoice and attached documentation, Northern Territory
Government accounts payable personnel would upload the invoices and supporting
documentation into the EIMS system against the contractor’s vendor code and send
the invoices to you electronically for checking.
You were supposed to check and code each invoice in EIMS and assign it a
departmental cost code. You would then send the checked invoices in bulk to the
engineering services manager for final payment approval. The manager would
approve the payment of the invoices and the invoices would then be paid by the
transfer of money from the Northern Territory Government account into the bank
account of the approved contractor recorded in the EIMS system. That is how it was
supposed to work.
Sometime in early September 2016, you and Walter Wilton formed the common
intention to defraud the Northern Territory Government by creating fictitious work
orders in the building management system and submitting corresponding invoices for
payment to the Northern Territory Government accounts payable for payment.
To put this intention into effect you and Walter Wilton formed business
partnerships, SES Electrical NT and Shona Electrical Services, and you opened a
jointly operated business bank account in the name of Shona Electrical Services to
Then you created a series of false entries into the building management system.
You did this by a series of steps which I will outline. On October 20 2016, without
authorisation from the engineering services manager or anybody else, you entered
SES Electrical NT and Shona Electrical Services as approved contractors in the
building management system and you assigned each of them a vendor code. You
recorded Walter Wilton as the contractor contact person for each one.
On the same date, you generated induction and introduction to site
documentation for Walter Wilton and Shona Electrical Services implying falsely that
Walter Wilton had undertaken the required training in order to enter and perform
works on the site at Royal Darwin Hospital.
On 9 November 2016 someone entered Shona Electrical Services into the EIMS
system, the payment system, under the business name SES NT Electrical and
assigned it a vendor code.
Between 20 October 2016 and 23 December 2016, without any authorisation or
knowledge of the engineering services manager or anyone else, you raised 28 work
orders in the building management system for various fictitious electrical works at
Royal Darwin Hospital. You assigned the work in the building management system
to your business partner Walter Wilton at SES NT Electrical.
Then you and Walter Wilton together created corresponding invoices and you
completed and signed supporting documentation for each work order. The
supporting documentation included purported cost breakdowns into parts, materials
and labour, completed and signed Royal Darwin Hospital engineering services
excavation and DIG permits and risk assessments, low voltage access and isolation
permits for the Royal Darwin Hospital campus, Safe Work Method Statements and
mandatory NT WorkSafe electrical safety certificates of compliance. All of these
were false and you and Walter Wilton signed each document.
Between 8 November 2016 and 28 December 2016 the two of you submitted the
28 invoices to the Northern Territory Government accounts payable via email for
payment. The total invoiced for works allegedly carried out by SES Electrical NT
When they received the invoices and supporting documentation, NT Government
accounts payable personnel uploaded it in the EIMS system against the vendor
number for SES Electrical NT. They then forwarded the invoices to you in your
capacity as a technical services officer with the engineering department at the
In that capacity, you purported to check and then you did code each invoice in
EIMS and assigned a departmental cost code to each one. Then you forwarded the
invoices, along with a large bundle of other invoices for other contractors, to the
engineering services manager, Mr Bond, for final payment approval.
Mr Bond, acting in good faith that you had conducted due diligence in checking
the invoices, approved the payment of all of those invoices including the 28 false
invoices from SES Electrical.
Between 22 November and 4 January 2017 the 28 invoices were paid by
Northern Territory Government accounts payable to the bank account in the name of
Shona Electrical Services recorded in the EIMS, that is your and Mr Wilton’s joint
account, by means of five payments amounting in total to $97,263.33.
You then carried out a similar exercise in the period between 10 January 2017
and 1 March 2017. During that period, without any authorisation or knowledge of the
engineering services manager, you raised another eight work orders in the building
management system to Walter Wilton at SES Electrical NT. Again, you and Walter
Wilton created corresponding invoices and completed and signed false supporting
documentation for each work order.
Between 10 January 2017 and 1 March 2017 Walter Wilton submitted the eight
invoices to the Northern Territory Government accounts payable totalling $50,768.30
for payment and the same procedure was followed. The information was uploaded
to EIMS, forwarded to you, you checked and coded each invoice in EIMS, sent them
to the building manager for approval, he trusted that you had done the work correctly
and approved all of the invoices including the five false ones submitted by Walter
By that means you received $50,768.30 by means of five payments from EIMS
into Shona Investments Pty Ltd account.
In early April 2017, Neil Bond, the engineering services manager at Royal
Darwin Hospital, discovered your deceptive activities and the matter was referred to
the Northern Territory Police for investigation. A full audit was performed which
revealed that none of the work claimed on the first lot of 28 invoices or the second lot
of eight invoices had been performed by Walter Wilton or any other person working
for Shona Electrical Services or SES Electrical.
In short, the work orders, invoices and supporting documentation were all
You and Walter Wilton generated and submitted a total of 36 false invoices along
with numerous other work orders and other supporting documentation in order to
deceive the Northern Territory Government and obtain a monetary benefit. The two
of you unlawfully obtained a total of $148,031.63 from the Northern Territory
Government as a result of your deceptive conduct.
Mr Zvimba, I am going to talk about you now. You have no prior convictions and
I accept that you were previously a person of good character. Your counsel gave me
some information about your background. You were born in Harare in Zimbabwe.
Your father was the Commissioner of Police in Harare for many years and died in
office of a heart attack unfortunately in 2002. Your mother performed home duties.
You lived with your family growing up including one brother and one sister. You
attended a Catholic school, Serima High School, and graduated in 1997. You then
attended Mutare College, that is a university in Harare, and graduated as an
electrical engineer in 2002.
After you graduated you were employed as an intern by an American company
as a high voltage electrician in a mining operation. You were employed there for two
years and then you worked for Goodyear in South Africa as an electrician for seven
You are fluent in English, as well as Shona, Xhosa and Ndebele which are
indigenous languages of Zimbabwe and South Africa. You also speak Afrikaans and
two other South African languages. You are clearly a well-educated and
accomplished man. You were married in 2012 in South Africa and you have two
In 2013 you came to Australia with your wife. You were employed in New South
Wales for a year and then came to the Northern Territory. You worked as a private
contractor in the Northern Territory for 12 months and then you obtained
employment with the Department of Health where you committed this offence
working at the Darwin hospital. I am told that you and your wife separated in 2016.
I have had the benefit of reading two personal references from members of the
Zimbabwean community in Darwin. They say that this offending is out of character
for you and they describe you as a kind and generous person and a caring father.
I have also read a letter you wrote to your employer apologising for your actions
and offering to pay restitution. However, I note that the letter contains no concrete
proposal for repayment nor have you given any real details about what you did with
the substantial amount of money you obtained other than to say that you used it for
the upkeep of yourself and your daughter and sent some money back to Zimbabwe.
I understand from one of the references that you own a house, although you
have a mortgage. I have not been told that you have put the house on the market in
order to repay what you stole.
There are a number of things I need to think about in sentencing you. This is a
serious offence reflected in the maximum penalty prescribed by the legislature of
14 years imprisonment.
You stole a substantial amount of money, none of which has been recovered.
Theft by an employee entrusted as you were with ensuring the integrity of your
employer’s contracting and payment system involves a very significant breach of
An important consideration in matters involving a significant breach of trust by an
employee is general deterrence and I do place a large emphasis on that in
Also, this is not a case where you suddenly and opportunistically succumbed to
temptation. You obtained that money in a deliberate and calculated course of
deception over an extended period creating an elaborate trail of false documents and
false entries using the access you had to the Northern Territory Government’s
computerised records system and your knowledge of that system to misappropriate
large sums of money.
You have offered no real explanation for your conduct. You were not in dire
financial need. There seems to be no other explanation than simple greed. I do take
into account that you have no prior criminal history. You have apparently been a
hardworking contributing member of the community in Zimbabwe, South Africa and
You have pleaded guilty and you are entitled to some reduction in your sentence
because of that. You also wrote a letter to the court in which you purport to express
what you describe as sincere remorse and state that you accept full responsibility for
what you have done.
I have some doubts about that. The letter is mostly concerned with the effect of
your offending on you, your loss of reputation, of your promising future career and
the respect of your children. I accept that you feel shame for what you have done or
at least having been found out.
There is also the fact that you initially lied to police in order to escape detection,
however on the other hand, since you were charged you have cooperated with the
authorities, you have given a statement to police outlining the details of what you did
and a statement that will assist in the prosecution of your co-offender, in particular in
relation to conversations and conduct after the arrest.
The prosecutor concedes that this entitles you to an additional reduction in your
sentence and I intend your reducing your sentence by around 30 per cent for a
combination of all of those matters.
I have looked at the comparative sentences referred to me by counsel. I think
the most comparable of those were the two cases of Michelle Gregurke and Gail
Barry. Like you, both of those people stole – misappropriated substantial amounts of
money in gross breach of trust over an extended period of time and the money was
However, both of those women came from deprived backgrounds with histories
of physical and sexual abuse as children which, no doubt, warped their moral
development and contributed somewhat to their developing gambling problems.
They did not have the advantages that you had in growing up of a supportive family,
sound moral guidance and a good education.
In Ms Gregurke’s case the majority of the Court of Criminal Appeal held that an
appropriate starting point was a sentence of 6 years imprisonment reduced to 4 ½
years for her guilty plea.
In some ways, her offending was more serious than yours. She misappropriated
money from a vulnerable old woman and left her penniless and she was entrusted to
care for that woman.
In other respects your offending is somewhat worse. You stole more money
than she did, your offending was more elaborate and involved a co-offender.
The other offender, Mrs Barry, was sentenced to a term of imprisonment for 5
years and 3 months reduced from 5 ½. In my view, your offending was more serious
than hers because it was more elaborate and involved a co-offender.
In my view, in your case an appropriate starting point would be a sentence of
imprisonment for 6 years.
I am going to sentence you now, Mr Zvimba. Allowing a reduction of about
30 per cent for your plea of guilty and cooperation with the authorities, you will be
convicted and sentenced to a term of imprisonment for 4 years and 3 months.
You have been found suitable for supervision in the community, however I am
told that you are likely to be deported when you are released from prison and
although I am not to take that into account as extra-curial punishment, I do not
consider that it would be appropriate to order you to undergo supervision in the
interests of facilitating your rehabilitation if that court order is likely to be futile
because you will be unable to undergo that supervision, so I am going to fix a nonparole