Prosecution of ‘Cato Manor Death Squad’ postponed again

2014-06-24 00:00

The prosecution of members of the alleged “Cato Manor Death Squad” has been delayed again, as the large state legal team was granted a six-month postponement in the Durban high court yesterday.

Six state advocates, flown in from Pretoria, requested the postponement from Judge Kate Pillay in order to sift through a request for further particulars made by the squad’s legal team.

The attorneys representing the officers carefully dissected each of the over 150 charges listed in the indictment, and requested further particulars of the evidence those charges were based on.

State advocate Sello Maema said that if they placed themselves “under pressure”, they would be able to respond to the defence team’s request within six months.

“If we sit down and if we pressure ourselves it would take us a minimum of six months to furnish the information that has been sought.”

He said the request spanned at least 25 volumes, and was expected to amount to nearly 8 000 pages.

The cost of prosecuting the officers, who have been suspended on full pay since their arrest in 2012, continues to mount and is estimated to be in the tens of millions.

The squad face a litany of charges including theft and murder, specifically of suspects during the course of their arrests.

Since their suspension, the state has paid at least R14 million in salaries to the specialist detectives, who are barred from working.

Adding to the prosecution’s costs is a team of advocates who travel to and from Gauteng regularly to attend the officers’ court appearances, and stay in top hotels in Durban for the duration of their visits.

During yesterday’s appearance, the six-strong team of advocates appeared in court for less than five minutes to facilitate the postponement.

The investigation of the alleged “hit squad” took 18 months to complete, with a squadron of nearly 20 police officers from Gauteng also incurring travel and accommodation costs.

When the officers appear in court again, it will be four years since the investigation into the activities of the unit was started.

A date for the trial has still not been set.

The prosecution of the officers was initially halted by a successful high court application launched by KwaZulu-Natal Hawks head Major-General Johan Booysen to nullify racketeering charges.

In his application, Booysen told the court that his corruption investigation into a businessman with political and police connections had resulted in his being targeted. The members of the unit appear to be collateral damage.

The state withdrew charges of racketeering following a ruling handed down by Judge Trevor Gorven at the end of February, in which he condemned a decision by then acting national director of public prosecutions Nomcobo Jiba to prosecute Booysen, saying the charges did not meet even the barest of minimum requirements.

Jiba had said in her court papers that the unit acted like an organised crime organisation.

Booysen was charged in August 2012 with managing and participating in the “enterprise” through a pattern of racketeering activity.

Apart from the racketeering charges, Booysen was accused of two murders, unlawful possession of a firearm and ammunition, and defeating or obstructing the course of justice.

In his judgment, Gorven wrote: “Even accepting the least stringent test for rationality imaginable, the decision of the NDPP does not pass muster.

“I can conceive of no test for rationality, however relaxed, which could be satisfied by her explanation. The impugned decisions were arbitrary, offend the principle of legality and, therefore, the rule of law, and were unconstitutional.”

The officers will appear again in the Durban high court on February 11, 2015.

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