Ex-teacher, Vindra Jaickaran says she faked cancer and defrauded Cowan House school of millions of rands to “distract” herself from memories of abuse she had suffered from her father in her youth.
Jaickaran (49) said during questioning by her lawyer, Pranil Rajcoomar, that pretending to have cancer would justify her becoming physically “frail” and allow her to avoid “admitting to having a mental breakdown”.
However, in cross-examination state advocate Wendy O’Brien suggested to Jaickaran that instead of doing her Bachelor of Education degree she should have got a degree in acting for managing to convince the school for 18 months that she had cancer.
Jaickaran said, as she took the witness stand during an emotional pre-sentencing hearing at the Durban specialised commercial crimes court on Tuesday, that her acts of fraud were a “way out”.
This was in relation to repressed memories of her father’s physical and sexual abuse resurfacing during her time at Cowan House.
Jaickaran broke down in the dock a few times, and magistrate Judy Naidoo even granted a short adjournment to allow her to compose herself before she answered questions about her father.
She previously pleaded guilty to 73 counts of defrauding Cowan House and swindling the school of more than R2 million.
She admitted to lying to the school that she had cancer in April 2014, and even produced fabricated letters and medical reports from the Grey’s Hospital Oncology Department.
Her modus operandi, as revealed in her guilty plea, was to either inflate legitimate amounts owed to Cowan House and divert the balance into her own accounts, or outright fabricate companies and get the school to pay money into her accounts.
In her capacity as an IT teacher, she was involved in purchasing and maintaining computer hardware, and procuring software.
Jaickaran said on Tuesday memories of her father’s abuse came like the “floodgates of hell opened up” during a staff development session at Cowan House in 2011 on how to recognise children from abusive homes.
She said she had previously repressed memories of her father’s abuse, which was so serious he was said to have beaten her with a sjambok until she bled when she tried to run away from home at the age of 16 years.
She told the court on Tuesday that she had access to making invoices for five years and eight months before her first fraudulent one, and her acts of fraud were part of her mental health “spiralling” out of control.
“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t do drugs. I thought this would be a way out and it would make me happy.
“I was very scared; I never committed a crime. But I didn’t know where my mind was at that time.”
She said: “I felt it would be a disgrace if everyone knew [about her mental health problems]. I felt unworthy; I couldn’t say I was dying inside.”
State advocate O’Brien put it to Jaickaran that the fraud was not part of a loss of control, but rather showed “a lot of thought and effort”.
O’Brien also asserted that Jaickaran’s pretending to have cancer would have caused similar trauma to the school’s pupils as she suffered during her childhood.
Jaickaran disagreed: “I was not in the correct frame of mind … When I look back to that time I am shocked at what I did.”
Magistrate Naidoo put it to Jaickaran that her situation was similar to that of a gambler who would cry addiction when caught out after stealing money.
This was on account of Jaickaran only opening up to her psychiatrist — who she had seen as early as 1999 — about her father’s abuse in 2015, once she began being investigated.
But Jaickaran maintained that only after the staff development session in 2011 served as a “trigger” to bring back those memories did she start to commit fraud.
She told the court she would be willing and able to pay back the R1,7 million she owes the school, as stated in her guilty plea.
She was caught when the school launched an internal investigation into transactions she was involved in.
The trial continues.