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The Law Around Extortion in South Africa and Examples

- Featured article by LAWYERS-ONLINE.CO.ZA - June 2019

Under South African law, the crime of extortion is classified as a common law crime. This means that it is not written in any legislature but instead it comes through historical legal influences on the South African legal system as well as case law as determined in the courts. The accepted definition for the crime of extortion is “taking from another some patrimonial or non-patrimonial advantage by intentionally and unlawfully subjecting that person to pressure which induces him or her to submit to the taking” according to SAPS. This is not the same as blackmail, as extortion involves a more serious threat. Simply put, it means threatening a person with a harmful act unless they submit to demands being made. This can be emotionally draining and straining for the victims and their family, especially if the information being used to extort the person could be damaging to their family relationships, professional relationships or image.

The courts in South Africa take the crime of extortion very seriously, and have ruled it a schedule one offence meaning that offenders may be punished to the full extent of the law. The punishment for extortion is normally determined by the circumstances of the crime such as the amount or act being extorted as well as the information being used to extort the person.

Let’s look at a few examples of what extortion entails:

  • Often protection is a form of extortion, for example protection from gangs or even corrupt police officers threatening arrests unless a person pays up. This is happening a lot with extortion syndicates on the rise in South Africa.
  • Using the law against someone by threatening to sue them unless they comply with the demand being made
  • Threatening physical harm against a person in exchange for money, goods or services
  • And lastly threatening to make a claim against someone such as a police report unless they are able to meet the demands

In order to prosecute a crime of extortion, it is vital to take the step and lay a charge at a police station. From here an investigation will be opened under a docket and the extortionist will be arrested and charged if there is enough evidence. Although there is a chance that the information being used to extort a person may come to light in the course of the investigation, it is vital to stop extortionists and take back the power they attempt to take from their victims.

If you are in need of legal advice regarding extortion and legalities surrounding it, kindly make contact with our offices and we can refer you to a criminal attorney who may be able to advise on the matter.

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