Amigos charges dropped

2012-08-18 00:00

THE politicians walk, leaving the officials to face the music. This was a reaction to the dropping of corruption charges against KZN ANC politicians Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) yesterday.

The Inkatha Freedom Party said the matter “smacks of political interference”. Dark days for KZN, said the Democratic Alliance. Political analyst Protas Madlala said there was a worrying trend of officials being left to take the flak.

The NPA's KZN Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) said yesterday acting director advocate Moipone Noko had withdrawn charges against six accused, including Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni, in what has become known as the multi-million rand “Amigos” fraud and corruption trial.

The charges related to the allegedly corrupt tenders awarded to Uruguay businessman Gaston Savoi’s company Intaka for medical equipment.

The others to walk away yesterday were Lindelihle Mkhwanazi, a company director and a friend of Nkonyeni, as well as lawyers Nozibele Phindela, Jabulani Thusi and Ian Blose. The three were directors in the law firm Kuboni and Shezi, also listed as an accused in the trial. Money paid out in kickbacks was alleged to have been laundered through the firm’s account.

KZN DPP spokesperson Natasha Ramkisson said charges were dropped because Noko, upon reviewing the case, felt there was no prospect of a successful prosecution.

Both the IFP and DA noted the staff changes in the NPA’s KZN office less than a month ago, saying this was a prelude to the withdrawal of charges against the politicians.

The matter smacks of political interference, said IFP leader in the KZN Legislature Blessed Gwala. At the time of Noko’s appointment there was speculation that she was replacing Simphiwe Mdlotshwe because of his alleged refusal to withdraw charges against the politicians.

DA KZN leader Sizwe Mchunu said these were dark days for KZN because the message being sent by the ANC in the province was that those in power were exempt from the law. Mchunu called on Premier Zweli Mkhize to ensure that the reasons for the NPA’s decision were made public.

Madlala said the dropping of the charges was part of a worrying trend. He recalled that businessman Schabir Shaik was charged alone for corruption and not with Jacob Zuma, who was ANC deputy president at the time, for whom he solicited payment.

Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni declined to comment.

Yesterday’s move leaves 17 accused in the trial, among them five companies. Key civil servants still indicted include former KZN head of treasury Sipho Shabalala and the head of the Department of Health, Dr Busi Nyembezi.

Shabalala was asked whether he had been left to take the rap. He said he had never spoken or commented on the case, and would not now.

Nyembezi declined to comment and Savoi did not return calls to Weekend Witness. His attorney, George van Niekerk, declined to comment.

Ramkisson was asked whether releasing a statement to the media before the accused appear in court for the charges to be dropped confirmed that this had been a “trial by media”.

She replied that notifying the legal counsel for the accused of an intention to withdraw was not unusual.

A lawyer linked to the case said he believed it was done to prevent the legal teams working needlessly.

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