World Cup night court hullabaloo

2010-06-21 13:00

An American soccer fan lost his temper in a special World Cup court after a police detective refused to return his cellphone – a costly model allegedly swiped by another police officer two days earlier.

Janvier Novarini, a 44-year-old art dealer from Palm Beach in the United States, uttered a roar of frustration in the Pretoria court and yelled at the detective, accusing him of not keeping his word.

Novarini told City Press on Friday that the police informed him that the thief, Mpho Bodiba, was a police officer.

The court docket also stated Bodiba’s occupation as “reserve constable”. And Bodiba’s lawyer, Chris Viljoen, confirmed this.

But police inspector Johnny Makhubela, one of seven police officers who attended the court case, made several attempts to convince City Press that Bodiba was merely a security guard hired by the Christian Progressive College to protect the foreigners.

The college, in the Pretoria city centre, accommodates Novarini and a group of about 150 Argentinian soccer friends.

Makhubela, who introduced himself as chairperson of the Christian Progressive College, also tried to prevent City Press from interviewing the American.

The drama in the World Cup night court unfolded on Friday after Novarini spent two what he referred to as “frustrating days” to recover his stolen iPod and cellphone.

He and the Argentinian friends, he said, confronted Bodiba after they saw him using the cellphone. After he laid a complaint, the case was referred to the World Cup night court.

He was told that Bodiba had handed the cellphone over to the police but that the iPod remained missing.

He was also told that Bodiba’s father was willing to replace the iPod and that the police would return his cellphone provided he agreed to resolving the case outside court.

Bodiba’s father, a Putco-employee who declined to be interviewed, indeed turned up at court with a new iPod in a box.

The American accepted the iPod. He and Bodiba’s father sat on a bench outside court and shared a friendly, sympathetic conversation while the settlement documents were being drawn up.

Novarini also wrote a friendly letter, thanking the police for helping him, which he gave to Makhubela.

Trouble

The trouble started after the settlement had been signed and the parties returned to court for the formal withdrawal of the case.

The detective, Novarini said, had assured him that the stolen phone would be returned to him at this point. But when he asked for it, he was told that the evidence room at Pretoria Central Police Station was locked and that he could pick it up today.

At that time, Novarini said, he would be on a plane on his way back to America. It was the bureaucratic insensitivity to his time that made him throw his toys out of the cot.

It took the soothing diplomacy of the prosecutor, Advocate Lizzy Moake, to cool down the American and to cut through enough red tape to solve his problem.

She took him outside, patted his knee and in the late hours of the evening and phoned around until she found a police officer willing to unlock the evidence room. Novarini’s phone was handed back to him on Saturday at noon.

» A Pretoria magistrate dismissed a charge of fraud against a temporary South African Football Association (Safa) employee who tried to sell his tickets for the Bafama/Uruguay match at Loftus Versfeld last week.

The case was heard in the World Cup court on Friday night.

Magistrate Bheki Ntsgingila told Bongani Sithole that he was free to go after another Safa employee testified that all Safa employees had been issued with four tickets and that Safa employees were free to do what they wished with them, including selling them.

The magistrate chided the prosecutor for not checking out the facts with Safa before proceeding with the case against Sithole.

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