Cele turns up to back Mpisane

2012-06-12 00:00

AXED police commissioner Bheki Cele spent yesterday morning in the Durban Regional Court supporting a local tender tycoon facing charges of VAT fraud.

Dapper in a navy suit and red tie, Cele stood out in the gallery of courtroom Z where close friend and social butterfly Mabongi Mpisane, who is accused of swindling the taxman of nearly R5 million using cooked invoices, tax returns and financial statements, appeared.

Mpisane, who goes by the name of Shauwn, and her business, Zikhulise Cleaning, Maintenance and Transport CC, face 118 counts of fraud.

She also faces a charge of contravening the Close Corporations Act for operating a business with a previous fraud conviction. She has not yet pleaded.

It was Cele’s turn to support Mpisane — the daughter of the late Florence Mkhize, a former eThekwini councillor — who is a family friend. Mpisane supported him on the first and last day of the Moloi board of inquiry into his fitness to hold office.

Cele’s spokesperson, Vuyo Mkhize, said the former police chief would not abandon a friend or distance himself because of concerns that his presence “might give rise to irrational howls of outrage”. As the Constitution made clear, a person was innocent until proven guilty and there was no reason why Cele should not attend Mpisane’s trial, he said.

The start of the trial, set down for this week, was delayed when Mpisane’s legal team applied for further particulars after the state filed a revised charge sheet on May 24.

Mpisane has hired two counsels to fight her matter — Durban advocate Jimmy Howse and renowned silk Wim Trengove, instructed by attorneys Garlicke & Bousfield.

It was Trengove who took up the first morning session, arguing before magistrate Blessing Msani for an order compelling the state to hand over further information and documents.

With each of the counts, barring the first, which deals with the legality of Mpisane’s right to be a director, Trengove said there was a lack of clarity and specifics regarding the alleged complicity of his client with respect to the charges. The state claims Mpisane inflated cash purchases in her 2008 financial statements and ordered her accountant, Kishal Reddy, to forge invoices as supporting documents in order to reduce her profit and tax liability to the South African Revenue Service.

Reddy pleaded guilty last year to forgery and contravening the Value Added Tax Act, but said he did so on Mpisane’s instructions. Reddy paid a R30 000 fine and is expected to be the prosecution’s star witness.

In the amended charge sheet, the state refers in various parts to dates, documents and alleged accomplices in its explanation of Mpisane’s alleged involvement in the fraud, references which Trengove argued were too vague to defend.

“It is important for the defence to know what the state alleges is the complicity of the accused,” said Trengove.

The prosecution alleges Mpisane’s actions cost the taxman R4,8 million.

Mpisane was accompanied by an entourage of friends and family, who arrived in smart attire and left in a convoy of luxury vehicles.

Dressed in a black outfit embellished with red designer accessories, she was spirited from court away from waiting press photographers.

She is no stranger to the inside of a courtroom, having been convicted of VAT fraud in 2005. For that she received a three-year sentence, suspended for five years, and her company was fined R15 000.

She is currently fighting the municipality for a R176 million contract given to her in a secret deal last year, which was later reversed by housing officials.

Proceedings were adjourned at 2 pm until tomorrow, when prosecutor Meera Naidu will respond to the application.

Cele left the court at the lunch break, flanked by a group of men, and caught a flight to Johannesburg.

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