Business News 17.7.2017 07:15 am

Porritt, Bennett and the other woman

The secret he kept from his counsel.

Tigon-accused Gary Porritt, failed to disclose even to his own counsel that he was accompanied by a close female friend on the night of June 9 when he allegedly fainted at the KEG restaurant in Pietermaritzburg.

Porritt told the court he failed to name her, because he did not want to hurt the feelings of his co-accused Sue Bennett, even though she is best placed to testify to the events that led to his absence from court on at least two occasions.

Porritt and Bennett are on trial in the South Gauteng High court on more than 3 000 charges of theft, fraud and the contravention of financial legislation. The charges relate to the collapse around 2000 of listed financial services company Tigon. Porritt was at that stage CEO of Tigon and Bennett an executive.

The first witness in the trial Jack Milne, earlier testified that when he first met Porritt more than 15 years ago, Porritt made no secret that he was in a romantic relationship with Bennett.

The court is currently conducting an investigation into Porritt’s absence from court on June 12 and 19. He claims that he was too ill to attend after fainting three times in 30 minutes at the KEG.

He was eventually arrested and brought to court and is currently being detained in the hospital wing of the Johannesburg prison, also known as Sun City. Unless the court finds good reason for his absence, the withdrawal of his bail will become final and he will forfeit the bail amount of R100 000 (it was disclosed in court that the earlier amount of R800 000 had been reduced at some stage).

The court sat during the recess including on Saturday July 8 in an effort to expedite the enquiry.

From the transcript of the proceedings it is clear that Porritt had a hard task explaining why he tried to hide the role his friend, Vanessa Pretorius, played on the fateful evening.

His counsel Advocate Annelene van den Heever, told the court she heard Pretorius’ name for the first time in court on July 8.

In response to questions, Porritt revealed that he has known Pretorius since last year. She had been to his house before and lived on the other side of Pietermaritzburg from where he lives. She was aware of his relationship with Bennett.

On the night of June 9 they travelled together to the KEG restaurant with him driving and afterwards Pretorius drove him to his house. She wanted him to go to the hospital immediately, but he just wanted to go home, Porritt testified.

He said Pretorius did not want to get involved in the court case after watching the Oscar Pretorius trial.

He painted a picture of having little opportunity to consult with Van den Heever and refraining to tell her about Pretorius in Bennett’s presence during the single consultation at his place of detention.

He denied having earlier testified that he was in a relationship with Pretorius or that the relationship was intimate. Asked by Advocate Etienne Coetzee SC for the state why knowledge of Pretorius would then upset Bennett, he said: “She would be upset if I were going out for dinner with another woman. Having a date with another woman… Because women get upset about those things.”

Porritt also had difficulty explaining why he had no injuries after falling backward from a bar chair at a height of about one metre.

None of the medical reports submitted to court and accepted by Porritt noted any injuries or bruising, except for redness on his buttocks.

Coetzee put it to him that a backward fall from a bar stool that was about a metre high, could result in serious injury. Coetzee accused Porritt of staging the fall and in the process like a stunt man, protecting himself from injury.

Porritt strongly denied that.

Van den Heever applied for a postponement to call Pretorius to the testify, but Judge Brian Spilg denied the application at the late stage in the enquiry.

In making his ruling, Spilg stated that he was well aware that this could lead to appeals as high up as the Constitutional Court.

Spilg is expected to rule on the matter of Porritt’s absence from court and bail in the coming week.

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