The chairperson of the commission of inquiry into state capture, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, on Monday dismissed an application to postpone testimony relating to the so-called ‘Amigos case’.
The case relates to tenders for the supply of water purification and oxygen plants to the KwaZulu-Natal’s health and local government departments.
The case, which has dragged on for years, involved political heavyweights Mike Mabuyakhulu and Peggy Nkonyeni and others accused of racketeering, corruption, and fraud.
Eventually, the charges were withdrawn.
Sipho – former KwaZulu-Natal Treasury boss and Ithala CEO – and Beatrice Shabalala, who are alleged to be at the “centre” of the so-called Amigos case, filed an application at the commission to postpone the testimony of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) forensic auditor Trevor White.
Counsel for the Shabalalas, Khumbu Shazi said the application was not an attempt to stop White’s testimony from being heard at the commission.
Shazi said her clients, two of the 11 remaining accused in the matter from the original 21, approached the High Court in Durban for their trial to be heard separately due to frustrating delays dating back to 2010 when the Shabalalas were arrested and the matter was meant to get underway in court.
Last year, the high court in Durban granted the Shabalalas’ application for separation of trails, however, a date for the matter to proceed is yet to be set, Shazi said.
Shazi argued that should White testify at the commission before the criminal proceedings in court got underway, the Shabalalas would be prejudiced because the commission is widely publicised and witnesses expected to testify in court could possibly hear White’s testimony and so adjust their testimony to be heard in court.
She added that the presiding officer in court could also hear White’s testimony at the commission.
Shazi said the Shabalalas wanted to participate in the commission but for that to happen they would have to cross-examine the witnesses that have implicated them in testimony, namely White and the investigating officer in the case, Lieutenant Colonel Piet du Plooy.
Shazi argued this could result in White and du Plooy closing up the loopholes in their testimony, which the defence would have exploited in court proceedings.
Shazi further argued that if her clients applied to cross-examine the witnesses – which would require the Shabalalas to put up their version – this would result in the defence’s strategy being opened up at the commission before the court proceedings got underway.
Shazi said her clients were requesting that once White has completed his testimony in court, he then could appear before the commission.
During submissions for the application, both by Shazi and the head of the commission’s legal team Advocate Paul Pretorius, Zondo raised several issues, including that should the order have been granted, it could have led to other persons filing a similar application and so delaying the commission, which already had a limited lifespan.
Zondo, however, said he was hopeful that the court application the commission filed to extend its lifespan would be successful, “but I’m not the court”.
Zondo pointed out that some persons, who were furnished with rule 3.3.3 notices accompanied by statements of witnesses that implicated them, had not made a similar application, though they either had appeared in court or had cases pending but had simply asked not to be forced to testify at the commission.
Zondo said it was important to strike a balance between public and individual interests.
The chairperson said that should White’s testimony be heard at the commission, this could benefit the Shabalalas, who could then better prepare for the court trial based on the commission’s hearings.
Zondo pointed out to Shazi that at the conclusion of the commission, other parties implicated at the inquiry may be charged and that witnesses to be heard in those possible future court proceedings would have access to testimony at the commission.
Zondo dismissed the application and said on request, reasons will be furnished to the applicants.
According to a 2014 IOL report, the Shabalalas face 17 charges relating to an alleged R144 million racket.
It is alleged that a billionaire by the name of Gaston Savoi paid government officials to secure business and that Sipho Shabalala allegedly took R1 million from the billionaire.
It was reported that the R1 million was allegedly laundered through a lawyer’s trust account for it to be paid to the ANC.
Meanwhile, White began his testimony at the commission which relates to his investigation into allegations of irregularities in the procurement of goods and services by the South African Police Service in KwaZulu-Natal.
Those implicated in the matter include Durban-based businessman Thoshan Panday, who is said to be linked to former president Jacob Zuma’s son, Edward; former KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Mmamonnye Ngobeni; Colonel Navin Madhoe from supply chain management; and Captain Aswin Narainpersad.
(Additional reporting, News24 Wire)