Drama for Mpisane

2012-11-06 00:00

THE fraud case against Durban housing mogul Shauwn Mpisane came within a whisker of falling apart yesterday — before a single witness was called.

But the day of intrigue and exasperation finally gave way to testimony in the afternoon when the Durban Regional Court heard how Mpisane had racked up a tax bill of R33 million.

Of that amount, R13 million was deemed part of a formal dispute process, leaving an “unprotected” debt of R20 million.

Mpisane is accused of inflating invoices to cut her tax bill.

South African Revenue Service group executive for audit Jonas Makwakwa testified that only R3 million was paid by Mpisane by way of cheque, while two more amounts due in April 2009, totalling R5 million, never materialised.

Asked about the remaining R12 million, Makwakwa said: “The accused said she couldn’t make commitments she couldn’t meet.” She was then referred to debt collection, he added.

Makwakwa’s testimony was brief and he faces cross-examination today by defence advocate Jimmy Howse.

At one point, before lunch, it looked like Mpisane was on the brink of walking free when the state refused to lead its first witness. The bizarre approach had magistrate Blessing Msani, Mpisane’s defence team and pretty much everyone in court scratching their heads over the state’s tactics.

Prosecutor Meera Naidu had arrived in court at the start and announced she was seeking an adjournment, a bold request given that Msani had warned her on Friday against any further delays.

He had made an order to this effect after numerous stoppages in the trial. Naidu said yesterday she wanted time to prepare an application to the high court for a judicial review of Msani’s ruling.

When asked on what grounds, she had difficulty making herself clear. “How do you expect me to make a ruling?” asked Msani. A few short adjournments later, he threw out the application and then waited for Naidu to proceed with testimony.

She told the court she was unable to proceed because her instructions from acting director of public prosecutions Advocate Moipone Noko were to make the application only.

This angered Msani, who asked her how she could assume his ruling would go in her favour. “What was your plan if the application was not successful?” he probed.

“No plan, your worship,” was the reply.

“Do you want to rethink what you just said? Do you understand the implications?” asked Msani, who would have been left with no option but to close the state’s case.

It emerged that behind the scenes Mpisane’s lawyers were also trying to get an answer from Noko, which irked Naidu, who suggested their actions were “unethical”.

Biting his tongue up until that point, Msani finally vented his frustration and said to Naidu: “I have to say this although I shouldn’t, but your conduct in this matter leaves a lot to be desired.”

He granted her the lunch break to reconsider her next move and when the proceedings resumed, she indicated she would “continue under protest” pending the judicial review they intended seeking.

There is some expectation the case may go into a trial within a trial to argue the defence team’s contention that all the documentary evidence is protected under tax statute and cannot be used.

Naidu resisted this step yesterday and was accused by Howse of wasting time with “irrelevant” witnesses like Makwakwa.

The case continues today.

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