Seized funds can’t be used for legal fees

2013-02-20 00:00

THE alleged mastermind of an overseas ecstasy drug syndicate has been told he cannot pay for his legal fees with assets attached by authorities.

A majority judgement of the Constitutional Court yesterday ruled against Meir Elran, a U.S.-Israeli citizen.

Elran, who is reportedly fighting extradition to the U.S., where he is wanted on drug charges, fell foul of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in March 2006 when his property, including bank accounts, a R12 million Limpopo game farm, a R2,5 million house in Umhlanga, a luxury car and around R3 million in cash, was seized by court order.

The order was granted based on a reasonable suspicion that the property constituted the proceeds of crime.

Three years later, Elran successfully applied to the full court of the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg for an order allowing him to fund his legal expenses from the property covered by the preservation order.

He relied in his application on affidavits from three years earlier and did not give any details of charity and loans he claimed to have received and on which he and his family had allegedly survived since that time.

The high court based its decision on Section 44 (2) of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, which entitles a court to grant payment of reasonable living and legal expenses from preserved property if certain requirements are met.

The court found that Elran had met these requirements and granted payment of his legal expenses.

Yesterday, a majority of the Constitutional Court said the decision was wrong.

Five judges found that by failing to disclose his liabilities, Elran had not met the necessary preconditions and the high court therefore did not have the discretion to grant the order in his favour.

Four judges gave a minority, dissenting judgment in the case.

In their view, even though Elran’s disclosure was incomplete, this did not bar the high court from granting him legal expenses.

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