Premier ‘candidate’ in court

2008-12-10 00:00

Health MEC Peggy Nkonyeni (47), who was formally arrested on a corruption charge yesterday and appeared in court with two co-accused, is favoured to be a candidate for the provincial premiership in the 2009 elections.

There is a strong lobby within the ANC Women’s League supporting her for the position, confirmed Msunduzi Mayor Zanele Hlatshwayo, who chairs the Moses Mabhida branch of the league. Hlatshwayo questioned the timing of Nkonyeni’s arrest, saying she is among the favourites for the position.

The mayor was among many supporters who attended the court proceedings and lent vocal support to Nkonyeni. There was robust singing and toyi-toyiing as people in the crowded public gallery waited for the magistrate. Other political heavyweights spotted were Arts and Culture MEC Wezizwe Thusi, Cosatu provincial secretary Sdumo Dlamini and SA Communist Party KZN secretary Zet Luzipho.

Nkonyeni and two others — businessman Henry Lindelihle Mkhwanazi (38), and Mduduzi Ntshangase (44) of the Health Department — appeared in the Pietermaritzburg Regional Court before magistrate Chris van Vuuren.

Scorpions prosecutor Hein van der Merwe said Nkonyeni and Mkhwanazi are charged with contravening the Prevention of Corruption Act, Mkhwanazi and Ntshangase are charged with fraud, and Ntshangase faces an additional count of contravening the Public Finance Management Act.

The state was not opposed to the granting of bail on the strict condition that the accused may not communicate with or interfere with state witnesses Andile Zondo, Malcolm Peters and Busi Ndaba, who all work in the procurement section of the Health Department.

Nkonyeni and Mkhwanazi were both granted bail of R10 000, while Ntshangase was released on bail of R5 000 after his advocate, Sticks Mdladla, said he could not afford the higher amount.

The case was postponed to January 22 for further investigation as well as the drafting and serving of the docket and a final charge sheet.

The charge sheet before court did not contain details of the allegations facing the accused. But in a statement released after the case, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesman Tlali Tlali said the state will bring evidence that the accused “criminally interfered with and/or influenced” procurement procedures relating to the purchase of a cancer screening machine.

“The machine, which forms a critical part of the investigation, was seized by the Scorpions when search warrants were executed in the course of the investigation. Other allegations are being separately investigated,” he said.

Tlali said the arrests followed an investigation authorised under the NPA Act in February.

The Witness has reported that Mkhwanazi is alleged to be the owner of Rowmoor Investment, the company that was awarded the tender for the cancer scanner, and he was alleged to have had a “personal relationship” with Nkonyeni.

The crowd made no secret of their disapproval of the media attention on Nkonyeni.

Shouts of “We don’t want the media” and “No cameras” greeted the arrival of a television crew and photographers who were granted permission by the magistrate to film inside the courtroom.

Nkonyeni’s bodyguards blocked the entrance to the court and tried to control access. An SABC journalist said she was grabbed by the arm by a bodyguard who allegedly tried to pull her out of court.

The Witness was told Nkonyeni arrived at court early in a black SUV accompanied by bodyguards, and waited in the parking lot until 8.45 am, when she alighted and slipped into the court via a back entrance.

In the presence of her attorney, Larry Seethal, Nkonyeni handed herself over to members of the Scorpions.

In the privacy of an office, formal arrest procedures — which include the taking of fingerprints — were carried out.

Dressed smartly in a black suit, she took up a position in the front row of the court gallery, laughing and chatting with her supporters and being embraced occasionally by friends.

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