Savoi: cop in trouble

2011-10-20 00:00

A REGIONAL court magistrate expressed concern yesterday over allegations that an investigating officer took the law into his hands and defied two court orders in KwaZulu-Natal and Kimberley that allowed corruption accused Gaston Savoi to travel to Angola on business in June.

It has been alleged that despite the court orders, Colonel Clarence Jones threatened to alert airports and have Savoi arrested if he undertook the trip.

“He [Savoi] was well aware what the police are capable of and he was too afraid to go to Angola even though the courts said he could,” said his advocate, Jimmy Howse.

Regional magistrate Chris van Vuuren asked advocate Nomvula Mokhatla of the National Prosecuting Authority to comment on the allegations and said that, if they were true, Jones’s conduct was “shocking” and indicative of an “obstructive attitude”.

He said the court needs to know whether the state’s opposition to Savoi’s present application to be allowed to travel to Germany, Argentina and Brazil for a global pharmaceutical fair next week is “merely obstructive” or based on a genuine belief that he is a flight risk.

Although conceding that Jones was guilty of contempt of court if he acted as alleged, Mokhatla urged Van Vuuren not take that into account when considering the present application.

She argued that Savoi is indeed a flight risk and a person who has the means and incentive to “run away and never return” now that he has been formally indicted on “very serious” fraud, racketeering and corruption charges and knows that the “case is real”.

She also submitted that state now has more evidence against Savoi after two of his former co-accused, Anson Romani and Ronald Miller, entered into plea bargains and made statements in the matter.

The defence, however, said this is incorrect because Romani and Miller did not implicate Savoi in any wrongdoing. Howse handed in the plea agreements to prove this submission.

Mokhatla maintained in argument that KZN investigator Colonel Piet du Plooy did not oppose Savoi’s previous bid to fly to Angola because his “hands were tied” by an agreement between Savoi and the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU), in terms of which he was to pay the state R16 million from the proceeds of transactions realised in Angola.

Mokhatla said Du Plooy wanted to avoid an “embarrassing situation”.

This was rejected by Howse, who said Du Plooy stated clearly at the time that Savoi was not a flight risk, and if he believed he was, nothing prevented him telling the court.

Howse argued an “abundance” of facts show that Savoi can be trusted to go abroad and return.

These include the fact that Savoi has known for four years he was under investigation, during which time he frequently travelled out of South Africa; that after his arrest and release on bail last year he travelled to France and returned; that the magistrate’s courts in KZN and Kimberley ruled in June that he was not a flight risk and should be allowed to travel to Angola; and this view was reinforced by the high court in Kimberley only two weeks ago.

Howse also pointed out that the AFU is holding R186 million of Savoi’s assets under restraint and he would not “kiss this money goodbye”.

Howse disputed that Savoi faces a stronger case now than before, despite the racketeering, and money laundering charges added by the state. He said from the outset the fraud charge against Savoi involved R180 million and this has not changed.

Judgment will be given today.

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