Mandela memorial R5.9m fraud trial: Court lays down law

2014-09-01 17:00

High-ranking officials at the Buffalo City Metro have a case to answer in connection with funds allocated for former president Nelson Mandela’s memorial events despite being prominent people, says a magistrate.

Buffalo City mayor Zukiswa Ncitha, her deputy Temba Tinta, municipality speaker Lukela Simon-Ndzele and senior official Ondela Mahlangu today appeared before East London magistrate Lyon Kemp facing charges of allegedly defrauding the municipality of R5.9 million.

The four accused appeared alongside Pumlani Mkolo, who is the regional secretary of the ANC, and several service providers including business people Mzwandile Sokwali and his wife Busisiwe Boti, Dean William Fanoe, Zintle Nkuhlu and Viwe Vazi.

Senior councillor Sindiswa Gomba did not join the 10 accused in the dock today as she is said to be in Sweden on council business.

Kemp postponed the trial after their lawyers argued passionately for the matter to be struck off the roll until the state got its “ducks in a row”.

Advocate Matthew Mpahlwa said the state was prejudicing the accused because it was always not ready to proceed and seeking countless postponements so that it can “further investigate”.

“There is no final draft charge sheet against the accused. What we have here is a draft of a draft charge sheet. The state is seeking for indulgence to further investigate the accused. The accused are under ongoing social prejudice.

“This matter has been all over the media. The bank accounts of the accused persons have been frozen. The accused have suffered pain due to these pretrial prejudices.

“We are saying that once the state has put all their ducks in a row, then they can recharge. The remedy, my lord, is to strike this matter off the roll,” said Mpahlwa.

Senior state advocate Diniso Thethani argued that it was not in the interest of justice to strike the matter off the roll.

He said the state had to do further investigation because after arresting the initial suspects it became clear that more people were involved in the scandal.

Thethani assured the court that the state would not be arresting any more people in the matter but needed time to analyse information to be obtained from banks and mobile phone companies.

He said none of the accused were prejudiced as they were all out on bail and that a three-week trial had been set for April next year.

“The state asks the court to be allowed time to complete the investigation. It’s premature to argue for the matter to be struck off the roll,” said Thethani.

Kemp agreed, pointing out that “all accused who appear in this court on a daily basis face similar challenges. I don’t care if they are high-ranking officials or not. Why should I treat this case differently?”

“It’s premature to be asking for the matter to be struck off the roll. The application is therefore rejected,” said Kemp.

The Buffalo City officials looked dejected after Kemp made the ruling and did not even greet a handful of ANC supporters who were singing in their support outside court.

Ncitha and Tinta were whisked away in their flashy official vehicles surrounded by bodyguards.

The matter was postponed to November 21.

The officials are now awaiting their fate from the ANC’s integrity committee after failing to heed calls for them to step down until they have cleared their names.

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