Nkonyeni case withdrawn

2009-08-14 00:00

THE main reason for the state’s decision yesterday to withdraw corruption charges against the KZN Legislature speaker and former Health MEC, Peggy Nkonyeni, and Henry Mkhwanazi and Mduduzi Ntshangase is that a key witness is suffering from stress and cannot testify.

There were jubilant scenes in and around the courthouse yesterday as the trio’s supporters celebrated what Nkonyeni termed a “vindication” of her protestations of innocence.

Speaking on her cellphone as journalists crowded around to interview her, she said “I am vindicated. I’m free, free.”

Nkonyeni told The Witness that she is very happy. “Today the court has realised what I have always maintained. That I am innocent. I have not engaged in any form of corruption,” she said.

She said she has found it difficult to do her job with corruption allegations hanging over her. “Today the court has put them to rest.”

Nkonyeni thanked the ANC and other political bodies for their continued support and especially her mother and family and the pastors of the Methodist church who had prayed for her.

Among her supporters at court was ANC provincial secretary Sihle Zikalala, who, while welcoming the decision, said it casts doubt on the integrity of the prosecuting authorities who take people to court and fail to proceed with the case.

When former Scorpions advocate Hein van der Merwe informed regional court magistrate Chris van Vuuren that the state is withdrawing the charges, he did not give a reason. However, when pressed later by the media, he said a very material witness is ill with stress and not in a position to give evidence.

Van der Merwe would not be drawn on whether the state will consider reinstating charges against Nkonyeni and her co-accused at a later stage. Due to the “sensitivity” of the case, he said, he preferred not to comment.

Legal sources told The Witness t hat it is solely within the rights of the prosecutor to decide whether to proceed with a case. His job is to evaluate the evidence and to make that determination.

However, as in the case of President Jacob Zuma, the state is entitled to charge a person afresh if the prosecuting authority believes that the evidence warrants it.

The allegation against Nkonyeni is that she unlawfully used her position as MEC to influence the purchase of an ultra-sound machine that was allegedly bought by the department at an inflated price of R1,5 million from Mkhwanazi’s company, Rowmoor Investments, in 2007. The equipment’s actual worth is allegedly R425 000 and the only authorised supplier was allegedly Medhold GEMS.

Ntshangase was accounting officer and head of the supply chain at the Health Department at the time.

In exchange for using her influence, it is alleged, Nkonyeni was paid a “minimum” of R20 000 and given free accommodation at a five-star hotel in the Cape.

The acting spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Mthunzi Mhaga, told The Witness the condition of the key witness is such that she cannot testify at present, but that doctors will monitor her condition and tell the NPA when she is fit for court.

“The case can then be reinstated. We are confident her condition will improve.”

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