PMB lawyer alleges extortion by police

2014-06-03 00:00

PIETERMARITZBURG lawyer Oliver Bernhard (40) yesterday accused a state prosecutor and police of trying to extort money from him in return for mediating a case in which he is charged with assaults on officers.

He made the allegation before two magistrates when he appeared in court twice yesterday.

Bernhard also accused the prosecutor in charge of the mediation process, Kwaziwenkosi Zimu, of being “rude, arrogant and disrespectful” during their dealings.

“This morning he called out to me saying, ‘Woza Bernhard’. I take offence at that,” he said.

Bernhard complained that Zimu has failed to withdraw a charge against him of using his partner Claudia Garella’s vehicle without consent, despite this aspect of the case being mediated a month ago.

Garella, who attended some of the court proceedings yesterday, later told The Witness that this was correct. “We [the state, Bernhard and herself] signed an agreement that the charge would be withdrawn,” she said.

Zimu told one of the two magistrates presiding in the case yesterday that he “knows nothing” about Bernhard’s allegation about money being extorted from him.

Bernhard first complained to magistrate Reard Abrahams, and later to magistrate Asha Dathoo that all attempts to settle his case by way of “alternate dispute resolution” (ADR) had been thwarted by Zimu’s alleged refusal to continue with mediation unless he paid money to the policemen who laid the assault charges against him.

“I regard that as extortion, bribery and corruption,” he said.

Abrahams gave Bernhard two hours to approach the senior public prosecutor or director of public prosecutions with his concerns, but the lawyer later told Dathoo that he was not able to get any help from either at such short notice.

Bernhard also complained that he has been trying “for weeks” to get Townhill police station to open a docket over charges of “attempted murder, abduction, assault and pointing a firearm” that he wants to lay against various policemen. They include the same three who are the complainants in his case and “four other parties”. He said police asked him to put the charges “on hold” pending the outcome of the mediation process, but said he was frustrated because nothing is happening.

The case was yesterday postponed until June 13 at the prosecutor’s request.

Zimu said this would give the state time to investigate Bernhard’s claims concerning the extortion allegations and his attempts to lay counter charges in the case.

Bernhard told The Witness that he had opened charges of “extortion, corruption and eliciting bribes” against the prosecutor and three policemen at Loop Street police station later yesterday.

“I am now also going to initiate civil proceedings against the various individual policemen and state over the assaults on me,” he added.

Bernhard alleges that police unlawfully broke into and entered the home he shared with Garella on the night of his arrest, and said he was beaten “black and blue” by two separate groups of officers that night.

“I was beaten with an R5 rifle all over my body repeatedly while I was handcuffed to a tree,” he said.

At Bernhard’s first court appearance and release on bail of R1 500 on March 24, his then attorney, Jacques Botha, told The Witness that Bernhard planned to sue the police for brutality. He said Bernhard was allegedly beaten with an R5 rifle and was shackled to his hospital bed for the long weekend from March 21, despite being under police guard.

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