Magistrate forced to defer ex-attorney’s multimillion-rand theft trial

2016-07-26 10:34

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Pietermaritzburg - The commencement of the multimillion-rand theft trial of ex-attorney Sundeep Singh was delayed on Monday because he fired his legal team earlier this month.

While agreeing to postpone the matter, regional Magistrate S. Mngomezulu said he was concerned that the case had been set down for trial as early as February this year, only to be postponed at this late stage due to a change in legal representation.

“It is unfortunate because most of the time the right to a speedy trial is harped on when it affects the accused, but not when it affects the state or the court,” the magistrate added.

He said the delay also affected his court roll as the entire week had been set aside for Singh’s trial.

State advocate Yuri Gangai also expressed concern over the delay, saying the matter was “long overdue” for trial.

He said it was first enrolled in court in 2014, and had been postponed a number of times since then to enable the defence to prepare itself.

Gangai said there seemed to be a tendency for cases to be delayed at the last minute. “The state is ready to proceed,” he added.

Singh’s former attorney Subhash Maikoo told the court that Singh had called him on July 5 and told him he was terminating his mandate, as well as that of advocate Martin Krog who was instructed to represent him in the case. Taking over as the new attorney yesterday, Surendra Singh said that on being hired, he had immediately told Gangai that he was travelling overseas this month and would only be back in Pietermaritzburg on July 20.

“Having looked at the documents in this case and after consulting with the accused [Singh] over the past four days, I realise I cannot do justice to the matter this week and I am asking for an adjournment,” he said.

Singh added that he was busy arranging to brief advocate Shane Matthews to handle the trial, and had already discussed this with him.

He told the court that he had queries regarding the charge sheet he had been given, and would need “further particulars” to be provided by the prosecution.

Asked by the magistrate why he had decided to change lawyers at this late stage, Sundeep Singh replied: “There was confusion with regards to some consultations that I was unaware of and that only came to light on that day [July 5] … that is the reason why,” he said.

Mngomezulu adjourned the case until Friday, but ordered the defence and prosecution to hold talks during the course of this week to finalise any outstanding issues relating to the charges or other matters. A new trial date would then likely be decided on.

Singh currently faces 19 counts of theft involving close to R7 million.

He was struck off the roll of attorneys in April 2014 after a client, Radha Govender, complained to the KZN Law Society that he had failed to pay her the proceeds of a Road Accident Fund claim amounting to more than R876 000, even though he had received the money in his trust account.

Singh was initially charged with only a single count of theft of trust funds arising from that complaint, but more charges have been added since then.

He has been struck off the roll of attorneys twice in his career.

The first time, in November 1993, he was found to have stolen R249 000 from the estate of the late K.R. Singh. After owning up and repaying the money, Singh was given a partially suspended jail sentence which was later converted to correctional supervision.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  court  |  theft

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