Defence opposes use of Skype in Cwele drug trafficking case

2010-12-13 12:44

The State’s application to have its crucial witness testify via Skype, an internet webcam service, was vehemently opposed by the defence in the Pietermaritzburg High Court today.

The State made an application to have convicted drug mule Tessa Beetge testify via Skype from a jail in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where she is currently serving an eight-year jail sentence.

She is a crucial State witness in the drug trafficking case involving Sheryl Cwele, the wife of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.

Mrs Cwele’s advocate Mvuseni Ngubane said using Skype would make it extremely difficult to conduct cross examinations.

He said the State should have explored other ways of getting Beetge’s testimony.

“It is clear that the State has not looked at other ways. There are so many mechanisms that could have been explored,” he said.

The mechanisms included bringing her to South Africa or sending people to Brazil to attend a formal court hearing which would make it easy to cross-examine her.

Ngubane said the State had not even tried to contact the Brazilian or South African embassies to help facilitate the process.

It was important for Beetge to be present during the trial so that he would be able to see her behaviour and reaction when cross examined.

He said he had many exhibits which he would like to put to Beetge during cross examination.

Ngubane also wanted to use clips from the interview Beetge had with SABC’s special assignment programme.

Earlier on today, Judge Piet Koene said he intended approaching the director of public prosecutions to see whether a criminal case could be brought against the SABC for airing the interview.

Special Assignment earlier this year screened an interview with Beetge from a jail in Sao Paolo.

Koene said he had not seen the broadcast as he was in hospital under sedation at the time.

“I did not see it. I am still looking into it. I intend to approach the DDP (director of public prosecutions) to investigate whether criminal offence can be instituted against the SABC,” he said.

Beetge was arrested after 10kg of cocaine was found in her luggage in Brazil in 2008.

Cwele and Nigerian national Frank Nabolisa allegedly conspired to recruit Beetge and Charmaine Moss as drug mules.

In the interview, Beetge made several allegations against Cwele, claiming Cwele had offered her a job via sms. Beetge said Cwele should be the one having sleepless nights, not her.

“My only mistake was trusting her... Sheryl Cwele should be the one paying the price. She must face consequences for her actions,” Beetge said in the SABC 3 show.

Koene today also ruled that transcripts of calls intercepted by police from two cellphone numbers were admissible as evidence.

In October, lawyers representing Cwele and Nabolisa objected to the use of the transcripts. The police recorded phone calls between Cwele, Nabolisa and Beetge.

Advocates representing Cwele and Nabolisa had argued that the Act under which the interception of the calls was authorised did not cover cellphones.

They had further argued the interception was not authorised by a designated judge. It would “trample” the accused’s privacy.

The State believed the calls would present a detailed picture of what transpired between Cwele, Nabolisa and Beetge.

The directive to monitor calls was granted by Judge J Swart on March 20, 2008. It covered the period April 29 to June 16, 2008.

The court was expected to rule on the State’s application after lunch.

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