Mountain Rise 5 acquitted

2014-12-11 00:00

THE marathon racketeering and corruption trial of former Mountain Rise station commander Hariram Badul and four co-accused ended with their abrupt acquittal on all charges yesterday.

Judge Rashid Vahed ruled the state had failed to prove any of the offences they were charged with beyond reasonable doubt.

Badul, Suresh Naraindath, Yunus Khan, Bhekuyise Nkabini and Sigamoney Pillay smiled broadly as they shook hands with their legal representatives and each other as free men.

Khan’s lawyers confirmed that they “will definitely” sue the police and state for malicious prosecution. While lawyers for the others — including Badul — were more cautious, there were hints that civil claims could follow.

Steps would also be taken to recover property, goods and cars seized from the men by the police and Asset Forfeiture Unit.

When Judge Vahed announced the verdict, he said his full judgment, giving reasons for the ruling, would be available by the end of the week.

Technical difficulties had prevented the judgment being printed and read out in court in the normal way.

Judge Vahed provisionally refused to grant indemnity from prosecution to so-called “204” or accomplice witnesses.

These witnesses can, however, make written submissions, which must be delivered to the high court registrar by February 28 next year, for why they should be indemnified.

One of them, police inspector Yugen “Stanley” Naidoo, has been in a witness protection programme since early in the investigation.

Regarded as a key witness for the prosecution, he testified that while working in the supply chain management office at Mountain Rise, he had forged Badul’s and Naraindath’s signatures on hundreds of documents with their blessing.

He and other state witnesses testified about a number of alleged “scams” at Mountain Rise, with Badul said to be in charge.

They included a “jobs for pals” scheme and a scam to get cash in lieu of equipment paid for by the SA Police Service.

The state alleged Badul was the mastermind behind a “pattern of racketeering” designed to enrich him and his co-accused.

The men’s criminal trial started in the Pietermaritzburg High Court on July 30, 2012.

Initially they faced 128 charges of racketeering, fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering. However, the state dropped 30 fraud charges in August 2013, and the trial continued on the remaining 98 counts.

The state also suffered a blow in June 2013 when the judge ruled that searches carried out at Badul’s home and farm at Bishopstowe were illegal. This meant that anything found during the searches could not be used against the men.

Badul was arrested in December 2009 following an initial probe into the alleged “fixing” of crime statistics at Mountain Rise, and the discovery of other alleged “irregularities”.

He was hospitalised with a heart condition soon after.

The state opposed bail for him and he was only granted R5 000 bail on appeal to the high court in March 2010.

Badul was thereafter also embroiled in various civil law suits.

One of these was to stop the police from dismissing him two days before his official ­retirement on March 31, 2010.

Another concerned his medical aid cover and yet another followed when the Asset ­Forfeiture Unit tried to seize his pension.

SPEAKING after his acquittal yesterday, Badul said only that he was “happy”.

He added that although the criminal case was over “other processes will now follow”. He would not elaborate.

His advocate, Christo van Schalkwyk SC, confirmed that a departmental ­inquiry against Badul involving “similar charges” is still under way and must be finalised as a priority.

Chronically ill businessman Sigamoney Pillay (represented by advocate Zina ­Anastasiou) said he suffered ­“emotionally, physically and financially as a result of this malicious prosecution”.

“Finally justice has been done,” he ­added.

Pillay, the owner of a fish shop in ­Northdale, was the only civilian among the accused.

Nkabini (a constable in the SAPS) said he’d “lost everything” as a result of his prosecution.

“I was suspended without pay. My son was supposed to go to university and he could not go because of this. My vehicle was taken away, and my dignity was ­destroyed,” he said.

He said he will seek legal advice about future steps he can take.

Khan and Naraindath left court quickly after the verdict, declining to comment.

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