Confusion delays Fidentia case

2012-11-06 19:32

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Johannesburg - Confusion in the Western Cape High Court about the allocation of a judge for the trial of former Fidentia chief executive J Arthur Brown, delayed proceedings on Tuesday.

Brown was to have pleaded to nine charges involving fraud, theft, corruption and money-laundering, but defence attorney June Marks was absent, and Brown was not asked to plead.

He appeared before Judge Pearl Mantame and two assessors, who asked Brown to explain Marks' absence.

The judge said she had been allocated to the case, which was scheduled to start immediately.

Brown said he and Marks had understood that Tuesday's proceedings were merely for a postponement to 12 November, and that Marks had requested him to deal with Tuesday's hearing himself.

Asked if he was aware of the reason for the postponement to 12 November, Brown said he was not.

Senior counsel for the State, Jannie van Vuuren, told the court that Judge president John Hlophe had indicated on Monday to the Western Cape Directorate for Public Prosecutions (DPP) that he did not yet have a judge available for the case.

Van Vuuren said there had been a number of delays, a more recent one caused by Brown's dismissal of his legal-aid appointed counsel and his appointment of Marks instead.

Van Vuuren said there was also confusion about whether Marks was doing the case pro-bono or pro-amico.

When she first came on record, she said she was appearing pro-bono, and she later changed this to pro-amico, he said.

He said Hlophe had warned Brown in August that his R1 million bail would be revoked, and the case would commence with or without legal representation, if he were not ready for trial in October.

However, the case could not begin in October as scheduled, because there had been no judge available, and the matter was postponed to 6 November, Van Vuuren said.

He said he had been informed by the DPP on Monday that there was still no judge available, and that for this reason the case had to be postponed to 12 November.

This prompted Judge Mantame to remark: "It seems that we do not have the same information."

Van Vuuren said Marks had requested him on Monday to excuse her from Tuesday's proceedings, because she was doing the case free of charge and did not have funds for a flight to Cape Town for a mere postponement.

Marks had also said she feared for her life, she told him.

Van Vuuren added: "I told her that only the court could excuse her, and that her presence here today was required."

Van Vuuren said Marks' reasons for her absence that she had no funds for a flight to Cape Town and that she feared for her life were not cogent.

The trial is now scheduled for 12 November.

- SAPA
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