A plea bargain submitted by a Plettenberg Bay man accused of having links to a horrific international pornography ring — involving the rape and torture of babies — was rejected by the director of public prosecutions on Monday.
The 38-year-old computer engineer who cannot be named until he has pleaded, appeared in the Knysna Regional Court on charges relating to the possession of child pornography involving more than 51 000 images.
The matter — which has been dragging on since January last year, was placed on the court roll for plea and sentencing proceedings to get under way, but it was brought to a halt following several issues, including uncertainty over the charge sheet.
The man’s lawyer, Carl Jeppe, informed the court that he had submitted his client’s plea bargain, but he received feedback from the DPP on Thursday that the submission had been rejected.
He further said that, despite the decision, his client was still ready to plead on Monday, but that he had become aware of issues with different versions of the charge sheet.
Jeppe explained that initially the charges related to more than 179 000 images. He objected to this and the charge sheet was subsequently amended to include charges relating to only about 51 000 images.
It was on the amended version that the man’s plea bargain was based.
Jeppe said he remained unsure of the reason for the objection and if it was based on the fact that the plea bargain was formed on the amended version and not the original.
State prosecutor JJ Marx suffered a back injury and could not attend proceedings on Monday and his stand-in, Chamelle Bastian, could not provide clarity either.
She said that neither she nor Marx had even been informed about the plea bargain rejection.
The matter was therefore postponed to October 17, for the prosecution to obtain further instruction from the DPP.
Plea negotiations in the matter started in December last year.
The suspect was the first South African to have been arrested as part of Cloud 9 — an operation between South African and Belgian police who were responsible for cracking down on a child pornography ring linked to a cyber meeting space for paedophiles whose fetishes seem to have been the sexual abuse of babies.
The Plett local was arrested on January 13 last year when international police raided his seaside home and allegedly found sections of files containing hundreds of images and videos of violent assaults as well as internet addresses of more than 300 other alleged paedophiles.
Since his arrest, several other alleged suspects linked to the same network have been arrested in South African and the rest of the world.
– African News Agency (ANA)