'Amigos' case drags on as 2 accused ask to be tried separately

2018-02-12 20:29
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Durban – After almost seven years, the so called "amigos" case – involving allegations of racketeering, corruption and fraud involving R144m in KwaZulu-Natal provincial contracts given in return for "sweeteners" – is far from trial.

But two of the accused, former head of provincial treasury Sipho Shabalala and his wife Beatrice Shabalala, are losing patience and want to stand trial separately, it emerged on Monday.

First arrests in the "amigos" case – so named because it was how some of the accused referred to each other in correspondence – were made in 2010.

At that time there were 23 accused, including ANC heavyweights Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni. But charges were withdrawn against them and others over the years.

Currently, only nine face charges: Cape Town-based billionaire Gaston Savoi, his company Intaka Holdings, his colleague Fernando Praderi, the Shabalalas, former head of health Busisiwe Nyembezi, former health officials Victor Ntshangase and Alson Buthelezi, and Advocate Sandile Kuboni.

Savoi and Praderi, as has become the custom at what has come to be their annual court appearance in the Durban High Court, did not appear on Monday by arrangement.

Their lawyer, Advocate Jimmy Howse, told Judge Mohini Moodley that this was because the matter was to be adjourned until March next year, and again provisionally.

He explained that his clients were intent on applying for a permanent stay of prosecution. In order to this, they had requested further information from the National Director of Public Prosecutions. In order to compel delivery of this, they had brought an application which had gone to trial before Judge Jerome Mnguni in the Pietermaritzburg High Court last year, had been argued, and on which judgment was expected soon.

Questions over withdrawal of charges against 'politically connected' two

Advocate Khumba Shazi, for the Shabalalas, said her clients intended bringing an application for a separation of trials and would be approaching the judge president to allocate a date for this.

She pointed out that Beatrice was not facing racketeering charges.

The matter was previously adjourned for the outcome of a Constitutional Court challenge by Savoi to sections of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act. 

While he argued that these were vague and open to "personal and political manipulation" – and used as an example the withdrawal of charges against Mabuyakhulu and Nkonyeni – the court dismissed his attacks and ruled that the definition of a "pattern of racketeering activity" was clear.

In the matter, which came before Judge Mnguni, Savoi also asked why the charges were withdrawn against the "politically connected" two and not the other accused when, he said, the same unsubstantiated evidence was relied on.

He said the State had refused to provide relevant documentation about this, "demonstrating a wanton disregard for the ability of the courts to scrutinise the fairness of the decision".

Savoi is accused of giving "sweeteners" to officials – including an alleged R1m to the ANC – to score contracts for the supply of water purification and oxygen plants to the departments of health and local government.

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